GreenBiz Survey Shows Growth in Companies' Environmental Departments

There's some good news amid the economic carnage. Our recent survey of more than 600 companies found increasing headcount for environmental and sustainability positions along with greater spending by environmental, health and safety (EHS) departments at large corporations. These are promising findings that the emerging green economy may be outpacing indicators of a broader recovery.

Last year, we formed the GreenBiz Intelligence Panel to take a regular pulse of the green business world. Each month, we ask the 2,480-member panel questions about a wide range of issues and trends. Our most recent survey, conducted during a three-week period from late July and early August 2009, showed significant increases in EHS spending and sustainability hiring for companies with revenues over $1 billion, compared with results from an earlier survey conducted from in November-December 2008.

More than 625 panel members responded to our latest survey. Their demographics were consistent with the overall makeup of the panel. Of responding companies, 21 percent have annual revenues of more than $1 billion and 52 percent have annual revenues of less than $10 million. Slightly more than 70 percent of members responding are from U.S.-based corporations.

The 2008 survey included more than 125 environmental and sustainability executives from companies with revenues greater than $1 billion.

Hiring on the Rise. While national unemployment rates inch toward double digit percentages, the number of large companies citing open requisitions and plans to increase headcount doubled from 8 percent in late 2008 to 17 percent in the most recent survey. While some of this increase is due to companies relaxing hiring freezes, several survey respondents noted that their hiring reflects a direct investment in emerging green growth opportunities.

The GreenBiz Intelligence Panel was expanded in 2009 to include companies of all sizes and the broader panel results were similar with 18 percent of all companies surveyed reporting that they are increasing headcount. In both demographics, reassigned or eliminated headcount for environmental, health and safety or sustainability positions was low with large corporations reporting a decrease from 6 percent to 5 percent and the entire panel reporting only 2.7 percent reassigned or eliminated headcount.

Spending Grows in Green. Encouraging signs are also apparent in EHS spending in large corporations. In a positive sign of stability, 75 percent of EHS budgets are still either flat or increasing. However, inside that seemingly static percentage a major shift has occurred with the number of companies reporting increased EHS spending rising from 28 percent in late 2008 to 41 percent in the most recent survey. Significantly, only a third of the companies reporting an increased EHS budget also reported an increase in hiring. In the broader results from the GreenBiz Intelligence Panel, over 60 percent of respondents report flat or increasing budgets with almost 25 percent reporting that they don't track this spending separately.

Environmental Initiatives and Impacts. The economic downturn continues to have the biggest impact on both large and small companies in terms of environmental issues and the number one environmental initiative for large companies remains reducing energy use through efficiency (identified by 43 percent of respondents). In looking at responses from the broader panel, only 25 percent cite energy efficiency and over 30 percent selected "making sure that green stays on the agenda."

For large companies, there was a significant decrease in the impact of energy prices (dropping from 13 percent to 7 percent) and customer requirements (from 27 percent to 20 percent) while anticipated carbon regulation and company leadership showed an increased impact on company approaches toward environmental issues. Green product development remains a priority for both large and small companies as more than 80 percent of companies have indicated that their investments will be either greater than or equal to last year.

If you are interested in becoming a part of the GreenBiz Intelligence Panel, please click here. There's no cost or other obligation other than to respond to monthly polls.

John Davies is vice president of GreenBiz Intelligence, which provides independent and unbiased research regarding green strategies and business operations. John also leads the GreenBiz Executive Network, a member-based, peer-to-peer learning forum for sustainability professionals.

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