'Recessionary Hangover' Slows Corporate Sustainability's Momentum

'Recessionary Hangover' Slows Corporate Sustainability's Momentum

This article is part of a series of excerpts from 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.

If you think of the corporate sustainability movement as a ship -- a huge, hulking, slow-moving and still-polluting ship -- new research shows that the ship is still moving forward, but is taking on water and struggling to pick up steam.

The fifth annual State of Green Business report, published today by Joel Makower and the editors of GreenBiz.com, finds that while progress is still happening in some areas, for the first time corporate sustainability has slowed, stopped and in some places even reversed.

"What’s to blame? Simply put, sustainable business is suffering a recessionary hangover," writes Joel Makower, Executive Editor of GreenBiz.com and principal author of the report.

"People expected green investing and corporate sustainability efforts to grind to a halt with the global recession in 2011. While some key indicators such as cleantech investments and energy efficiency are flattening or declining for the first time, we're seeing that companies are more committed than ever to making sustainability a part of their everyday business," Makower explained. "They're integrating green practices into all levels of their company, and looking to sustainability to drive innovation, reduce operating costs and in many instances unlock new revenue opportunities."

The report tracks year-over-year data for 20 different areas of corporate sustainability, ranging from overall carbon emissions to corporate reporting to LEED green building certifications to the use of toxic chemicals in manufacturing.

There's good and bad news in this year's report; the good news is that companies continue to dedicate time, money and staff to setting and meeting ambitious environmental goals -- the kind of news that we cover every day on GreenBiz.com.

The bad news is that, despite this, our research shows a slowing of momentum -- or even backwards motion, in some cases -- on some of the indicators. Among the downgraded topics include investments in clean technology innovations, overall energy intensity, certifications of LEED buildings, and paper use and recycling.

In addition to a close look at each of the indicators -- swimming, treading and sinking alike -- the report features the 10 trends that will shape corporate sustainability in 2012. Among them:

  • Sustainable Consumption Gets Buy-in -- mainstream companies are promoting smarter consumption, while mesh companies offer services instead of products.
  • Green Gamification Scores Points -- companies are using the power of games to reward customers and employees and highlight green practices.
  • Cleantech Survives a Crisis of Confidence -- cleantech investments are predicted to increase despite some big name failures in 2011.
  • Energy Efficiency Gains Star Power -- high-profile energy efficiency projects demonstrate potentially huge savings.
  • "Big Data" Creates Big Opportunities -- tsunami of information associated with the "internet of things" can yield insights and improve technology efficiency.
  • Sustainable Cities Take Center Stage -- cities are setting sustainability goals and investing in green infrastructure and technology.
  • Non-News is Good News -- sustainability has become less newsworthy as it is integrated into business as usual.

And for the first time this year, the State of Green Business Report features contributions from global experts on sustainable business. Among the contributors to the report include Amory Lovins, discussing "Energy's Two Revolutions;" Jigar Shah on "Carbon's Rising Costs, and Sinks;" Jonathan Koomey on "ICT and the Future of Low-Energy Computing;" and Paul Simpson, CEO of the Carbon Disclosure Project, writing about "What's Next for Carbon Reporting."

The 2012 report is the centerpiece of GreenBiz's upcoming Green Business Forums. The one-day events will take place in Minneapolis on January 19, New York on January 24, and San Francisco on Jan 30. For more information on the Forums, or to download a free copy of "State of Green Business 2012," visit GreenBiz.com.