WorldChanging.com Articles: Tools, Models and Ideas for Building a Better Future.
By Mary Catherine O'Connor
Americans today, it seems, are alternately drunk on hope-thanks to the promise of a new Administration-and drowning in despair, thanks to just about every news story we read. Your level of hope-drunkenness is likely a reflection of your employment status and financial standing.
But guess what? If your job title includes the word "sustainability" or "environment," you might have a leg up on everyone else. Or so said Worldchanging ally Joel Makower, executive editor of Greener World Media, while introducing his firm's second annual State of Green Business report at the State of Green Business Forum in San Francisco on February 2. The report rates how well -- or how poorly -- US firms are faring from an environmental perspective.
In the past economic downturns, companies were quick to fire their internal environmental teams in order to save money, Makower said. Not this time around. Instead, "companies are starting to see these teams as a way to grow their top line."
As proof, he points to a handful of headlines, all published in the 90 days since Barack Obama won the US presidency, that show major corporations - the likes of Coca Cola and Wal-Mart - making significant strides toward greening their businesses.
"This is not a drill," he said. "It's not a feel-good activity. This has become part of the fabric of business." And the State of Green Business report fleshes out this sentiment. Companies are using less water and energy per dollar of gross domestic product. They are using less paper and recycling more of what they do use. The power grid is, indeed, getting smarter. Technologies are coming up with promising new and efficient means of doing business and capitalists are funding their ideas.
That said, not all of the 20 indicators that make up the Green Business Index, which is the real meat of the study, are on a positive tack. While there are encouraging signs, there's much work to be done to produce green corporate strategies that truly change the way business impacts the planet.
For example, the amount of toxic substances that companies are emitting or using in their product manufacturing isn't falling as quickly as it needs to fall. Construction has lost its green steam, too. The energy efficiency of buildings had been on the upswing, overall, with the number of structures given the Energy Star blessing more than doubling in 2008. But, the report states, the "dire straits of the capital markets has turned commercial real estate topsy-turvy, with developers and landlords hoping to hang on to their buildings, let alone green them up. The result is that the industry has been shaken at its foundation - slowing, if not stopping, progress."
Finally, three of the indicators-carbon intensity, e-waste, and the number of workers who are telecommuting - are, just like the economy, sinking. The study found that when it comes to carbon emissions, corporations are not making any real progress: "Greenhouse gas emissions in the United States rose in 2007 by 1.4 percent in absolute terms over 2006, but shrank 0.6 percent in intensity - that is, when measured as a percentage of gross domestic product. That's the smallest annual decrease since 2002, when intensity improved 0.4 percent." The report goes on to say: "Scientists are warning that emissions need to drop 80 percent in absolute terms by 2050. That won't happen at the current rate of change. It could take a near-complete overhaul of the economy and comprehensive and creative government mandates to get us there." Ouch...
You can download the State of Green Business report here.