Sunday, June 11, 2006

'Sustainability Increases Profitability': A Green Biz Roundup

It's always nice to get away for a couple of days, especially when it's to see people you'd like to see more often... It's also very nice to get back home. Had a great couple of days in Cincinnati, and in addition to visiting with my wife's father and sister, we also got to spend a few hours at the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center. I wish I'd had a couple of days to spend there: if you're in Porkopolis, make sure to schedule time in for it!

While we were out last night waiting for our dinner reservation, I picked up a copy of the latest Utne, and its cover story, "The New Capitalists," is definitely worth a read even if you're well-versed in the world of green and responsible business. The good news is that some experts are saying we may have even passed the tipping point on this phenomenon: green may well be mainstream now. The bad news, of course, is that the laws and the politicians are still behind the curve: corporate law still requires a "single-bottom line" view of profitability, and while shareholders are making some inroads in specific companies, there doesn't seem to be a strong push on to reconsider the legal definition of the corporation. At the same time, such hurdles leave a lot of room available for smaller businesses that want to operate sustainably. One thing I definitely liked about this article (and it's typical for Utne): no sugar-coating. Many companies are doing very good things, but we still have to keep the pressure on... A companion article, in fact, argues that "corporate social responsibility" is mostly a sham as it exists currently. Read both... and tell us what you think.

I also came across news of the recent sustainable industries forums held in Portland and Seattle, and the news their mirrors that of the Utne article: keynote speaker and article author Glen R. Pascall claims that we're "midstream in the course of sustainability." He points to several bellwethers that encourage optimism:

Forum organizer Nik Blosser, president of Celilo Group, caught the wave on this emerging issue. All signs suggest the timing couldn't be better. In a recent Business Week story, Todd Thompson, CEO of Citigroup Global Wealth Management, cited orders for the fuel-efficient Boeing 787 rising from 56 in 2004 to 235 in 2005 as oil prices soared to record levels. He described General Electric Co.'s new gas turbine that powers 300,000 homes while reducing CO2 emissions by 73,000 tons.

Even Wal-Mart, the bad boy of global consumption, gets high marks for repackaging a brand of China-made toys in a way that saves 497 fewer cargo container trips, 3,800 trees and 1,000 barrels of oil a year. Thompson notes that China's role as the 21st century growth engine cannot continue "unless it addresses its pollution crisis."

On May 21, Parade magazine, a mainstream bellwether, accompanied its annual home price survey with a piece on "four reasons to downsize." Reversing the "Street of Dreams" mentality, Parade invited homeowners to enjoy "less financial stress, less maintenance, more freedom and more comfort" in fewer square feet.

A week later, CNBC's Maria Bartiromo interviewed Silicon Valley guru Bill Joy, who has a reputation for flagging the "Next Big Thing." Joy said the greatest engine of wealth creation in the economy today is green technology. Currently with Kleiner Perkins venture capitalists, he sees serious money flowing in this direction.

Both articles demonstrate that we've got good reasons to feel good about the direction the business community is heading. Both also show us that there's still plenty of work to do, and plenty of activities to watch closely. If anything (and this is cliche, but applicable), we've got to remind the business sector that sustainability is a journey, not a destination...

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