Green business activity has continued to grow, even during a down economy, but the aggregate environmental progress being made is marginal, according to a new report, titled "State of Green Business 2009," the second annual report of its kind published by GreenBiz.com.
The State of Green Business shows that companies are making progress on only a handful of the 20 measures of performance investigated. In some areas, such as in the case of climate change, company commitments and achievements are failing to stem the overall rise of carbon emissions.
"This year's update is a mixed bag of encouraging and discouraging news," says Joel Makower, executive editor of GreenBiz.com and the report's principal author. "But on balance, despite a growing chorus of corporate commitments and actions, we're less optimistic that these activities, in aggregate, are addressing planetary problems at sufficient scale and speed."
The report found many reasons for optimism, according to the authors. Green building is on the rise, spurring new technologies that save energy and money while creating more healthful workplaces. There is a green race taking place in the automobile industry, with every major manufacturer planning to introduce electric vehicles. The leading consumer product makers and retailers are starting to rigorously assess the environmental impact of their products using sophisticated metrics, sending signals up the supply chain that tomorrow's products will need to hew to higher levels of environmental responsibility.
The report marks the second year of the GreenBiz Index, a set of 20 indicators of U.S. business environmental progress. They include macroeconomic measures, such as carbon emissions, toxic releases, packaging materials, and paper use per unit of gross domestic product, as well as the fuel efficiency of corporate vehicle fleets, construction of green office space, investments in cleantech, and the financial costs of companies' environmental impacts.
Among the findings:
• 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 (GDP). That's the smallest annual decrease since 2002, when intensity improved 0.4 percent.
• U.S. patents for clean-energy technologies -- wind, fuel cells, hydroelectric, tidal, and geothermal -- in 2008 were at their highest level in seven years.
• Americans are continuing their love affair with the car, and appear unwilling to give up their vehicles for the solo commute to work. Since a high of 77.8 percent in 2003, the number of solo commuters has inched down slowly to 76.1 percent in 2007.
• American industry has been doing more with less energy for decades. The amount of energy required -- in the form of electricity and fuel -- per dollar of GDP has dropped more than 75 percent since 1950.
• The growth of certified green buildings, which for years had been growing from 10 to 90 percent, slowed dramatically in 2008.
• Generation of non-hydro renewable energy -- including solar, wind, and biomass -- grew nearly 7 percent in 2007 from the year before, outpacing the 2.3 percent annual growth in all electricity generation during the same period.
• The packaging intensity of the economy -- the aluminum, plastics, cardboard, and other materials used per dollar of GDP -- continued to decline slightly, as it has for the past several years.
• Over the past decade, the amount of paper used per dollar of GDP dropped by 27 percent and the amount of paper recycled rose -- also by 27 percent.
• Over the past 18 years, disposal and release of chemicals by U.S. companies decreased by 1.77 billion pounds, or 59 percent.
The report also includes the top 10 green business trends of 2007. They include the rise of energy efficiency in commercial buildings; the emergence of water as "the new carbon"'; the growth of college curricula on environmental management; growing company efforts to push environmental thinking to the rank and file; the failings of green marketing to captivate consumers; and the increased use by companies of such green design principles as green chemistry and biomimicry.
To download the free report, visit http://greenbiz.com/stateofgreenbusiness.