The State of Green Business 2012

This article is part of our coverage of the fifth annual State of Green Business Report, looking at trends in corporate sustainability. Download the free report from GreenBiz.com, and see all of our trends here.

Also, be sure to register for a free webcast taking place on Tuesday, February 7: The State of Green Busines 2012 - The Good News and Bad is hosted by Joel Makower and dives in to all the findings of the report. Click here to register.

Our 2012 State of Green Business report, our fifth annual, has just been published. I’m not going to mince words: Things aren’t going as well as we’d hoped. For the first time since we began doing our assessment, in 2008, several of the indicators have taken a downward turn.

The free report can be downloaded here.

Each year, we take the pulse of sustainable business through the lens of 20 indicators of progress, or lack thereof. The indicators measure such things as carbon emissions, e-waste recycling, green office space, vehicle fleet emissions, toxic emissions, energy efficiency, employee commuting, corporate reporting, and a dozen other things. For each, we provide the metric, an analysis, and our take on whether we’re making progress (“swimming”), holding our own (“treading”), or going backwards (“sinking”).

For the first time, we saw a significant decline in progress—not just in one indicator, but several. Cleantech investments, energy efficiency, green office space, packaging intensity, toxic emissions, and toxics in manufacturing -- all of these trend lines leveled off or reversed course in 2011. Only one indicator -- green power use -- markedly improved.

What’s to blame? Simply put, sustainable business is suffering a recessionary hangover.

For much of the past few years, many of our indicators moved in positive directions. Combined with the commitments we were seeing, as well as our surveys of sustainability leaders in large corporations -- which told us that their budgets, staff, and goals were holding steady or growing during the recession -- we concluded that the economic turmoil, at least in the United States, wasn’t putting a damper on companies’ efforts to improve their environmental performance. The results could be seen each year in the continued progress measured by the GreenBiz Index.

We were, shall we say, irrationally exuberant.

The reality is this: Much of the progress we saw in our 2010 and 2011 reports were lagging indicators based on work done with pre-recessionary budgets. As the economic realities have set in, environmental progress has stagnated, or worse.