The State of Green Business 2012

That’s not the full story. Despite our efforts to normalize many of the indicators to Gross Domestic Product in order to avoid spikes and drops resulting from economic booms and busts, we believe that less economic activity doesn’t always lead to lower environmental impacts. In some instances -- electricity power plants, for example -- industrial operations must operate at baseline levels that don’t always move in lockstep with the economy.

It’s not all bad news. This year, like all years, we find many promising developments in the world of corporate sustainability, as more companies make more commitments related to their products or operations. As we have in the past four reports, we pick 10 promising trends, from the rise of sustainable consumption, to the growing engagement of chief financial officers in companies’ sustainability initiatives, to the fact that clean technology, contrary to the political narrative, is alive and well, even flourishing. There is much reason for hope.

Indeed, that’s where the cognitive dissonance sets in: We report on so many promising developments each week, so many companies that are engaging more thoughtfully and holistically than ever with what it means to integrate sustainability into their operations, products, and services. We watch as clean technologies become competitive, as markets for organic foods and efficient vehicles reach into the mainstream, as companies achieve zero-waste factories and replace toxic ingredients with safer ones.

But for all of the good work being done, it’s simply not good enough.

Can we simply pass this off as a byproduct of a bad economy, and cross our fingers that progress will accelerate when times get better? Or is it time for companies to dig deeper, and for their employees and customers to get more engaged? What will it take to make real progress?

There’s a lot at stake here. We continue to be optimistic, though perhaps more cautiously than in the past.