The 2011 State of Green Business Forum heads to Washington D.C. on February 16 and 17!
Mark your calendars for the 2011 State of Green Business Forums, kicking off in San Francisco on February 2 and 3!
The report, if you’re not familiar with it, is published by TerraChoice, a Canadian-based environmental marketing agency. (Earlier this year, it was acquired by UL Environment, a division of Underwriters Laboratories. GreenBiz is engaged in a partnership with UL Environment that is wholly unrelated to TerraChoice.) TerraChoice’s report aims to take stock of the state of greenwashing — that is, false and misleading environmental marketing claims made by companies — based on a survey it conducts in 24 stores in the U.S. and Canada. This year’s survey covered nearly 5,300 products that made some kind of environmental claim. All told, more than 12,000 claims were evaluated.
TerraChoice uses a seven-part screen to judge the claims. Any product that failed to pass any one of the seven screens – “sins,” as TerraChoice calls them – was deemed to be greenwash.
The verdict: 95% of the products failed the test. Nearly everyone, according to TerraChoice, is a sinner.
This, believe it or not, is an improvement over last year, when over 98% (of about 2,200 products) were greenwash, according to TerraChoice. In 2007, the first year of the report, 99% (of about 1,000 products) failed. That, it could be said, is progress.
So, what’s my beef? Simply put, the report may be as much of a greenwash as the products and companies it is criticizing.
Want proof? I put the report to its own test. Here is my assessment of the report weighed against three of TerraChoice’s seven “sins.”
- The Sin of No Proof “is an environmental claim that cannot be substantiated by easily accessible supporting information or by a reliable third-party certification,” according to TerraChoice. By that measure, the report fails the test. Its findings do not include supporting information -- it offers only high-level, unsubstantiated findings -- and were not vetted or verified by an independent third party. You have to take the authors' word for it. Any marketer who takes that approach with their products is dubbed a greenwasher by TerraChoice.
- The Sin of Vagueness is committed when a claim "is so poorly defined or broad that its real meaning is likely to be misunderstood by the consumer.” You know: generic, meaningless words that sound good but lack a legal or generally agreed-upon definition, like "natural" or "nontoxic" -- or "greenwash." So, is it an overly broad misuse to cry “greenwash” if a company, say, made a valid marketing claim but failed to adequately back it up? (Fully 70% of all products examined by TerraChoice committed this sin.) After all, "greenwash" was originally coined to describe much more egregious practices – e.g., the "dissemination of misleading or false information designed to make an organization or product appear more environmentally friendly than it actually is" or "the unjustified appropriation of environmental virtue," to cite two reasonable definitions. Neither describes the aforementioned “sinner” that simply failed to provide adequate proof of a valid claim. Hence, TerraChoice is using the same kind of sensational but vague terminology it rails against in its report.
- The Sin of Irrelevance results from an environmental claim “that may be truthful but is unimportant or unhelpful for consumers seeking environmentally preferable products.” This irrelevance cuts both ways. Did TerraChoice apply the greenwash label to companies whose product claims are factually true but insufficiently substantiated? We don't really know, because TerraChoice won't say, but to the extent that it did, this seems unimportant and unhelpful to consumers trying to make good, green choices. In a word: irrelevant.
The tally: I’ve found reasonable grounds that the TerraChoice authors violated at least three of the seven screens it set for green marketers. According to its own rules, a commission of even one “sin” qualifies as “greenwash.”
I’ll admit to some subjectivity here, but that’s partly the point. Many of these things aren’t clear-cut, despite TerraChoice's seemingly definitive pronouncements. For example, I’m guessing that SC Johnson’s Greenlist labels have been deemed by TerraChoice to be greenwash, because they’re self-certified, not verified by an independent third party. True, but SCJ’s Greenlist program — an environmental classification system designed to systematically measure, track, and reduce environmentally problematic ingredients across the company's entire product line — has won a Presidential Green Chemistry Award and accolades from environmental and industry groups. It does not mislead or cover up. I don’t consider it to be greenwash. I’m pretty sure TerraChoice does, however, because it likely commits one of its “sins.”
I say I'm “pretty sure” because TerraChoice won’t say. There are no names named about what specific sins were committed. (See “Sin of No Proof.”)
I asked Scott McDougall, TerraChoice’s president, why his company -- which is so critical of those who fail to be accountable or transparent -- is itself unwilling to name companies or products, or give examples of companies or products that fail to meet its test?
“Our desire is to be constructive, to improve the understanding and quality of claims-making and to focus on shared lessons,” he responded. “It is already difficult enough to get media to use the study this way. To name names would distract entirely and would encourage, we suspect, a witch hunt.” He placed the burden on others — the U.S. Federal Trade Commission, for example — to “identify culprits.”
Naming “culprits” is one thing. Giving concrete and instructive examples that illustrate what TerraChoice considers greenwash is another. Even anonymous or disguised real-life examples would help readers understand what greenwash looks like, and would provide a level of confidence that what TerraChoice calls greenwash meets some reasonable standard. (Did I mention that the word has no legal definition?)
It’s also worth pointing out that there’s more than a little self-interest going on here: TerraChoice (and UL Environment) is in the business of both creating green product standards and selling claims verification services to product manufacturers. As such, the company is not an innocent, independent bystander here. It has a vested interest in fanning the flames of what it dubs the “significant problem” of greenwash. To the extent that marketers get spooked, they’ll need TerraChoice’s help.
Of course, I don’t really consider the “Sins” authors to be greenwashers. I know McDougall and the other principals behind the report and consider them to be earnest, ethical, and committed individuals. The “sins” they have committed, at least by my reckoning, don’t brand them as evil. They are, at worst, publicity-seeking entrepreneurs seeking to differentiate their brand in an increasingly competitive environmental marketplace.
That is to say: They are green marketers.
I’m afraid that those who read TerraChoice’s report won’t be quite so charitable when it comes to rendering judgment on the universe of green-marketing “sinners” that have been universally tarred by TerraChoice’s brush.
I wouldn’t blame shoppers for ending up more confused and cynical than ever. And I wouldn’t be surprised if some companies thinking about touting their green innovations and achievements decide to go back into their shells, keeping mum.
And that would be the biggest sin of all.
At long last — after 35 months, three public hearings, hundreds of public comments, two presidential administrations, and 17,536 utterings of the phrase, "It isn't easy being green" — they've arrived: The U.S. Federal Trade Commission's proposed "Green Guides," the federal government's definitive guides to green marketing.
The document, released today (a summary can be downloaded here - PDF), is an update to the original "Green Guides," published in 1992, then updated in 1996 and 1998. A lot has happened since then, marketing-wise: claims related to carbon-neutral and other greenhouse gas emissions; biobased materials, including packaging and textiles from bamboo and other plant matter; renewable energy; and the introduction of hundreds of eco-logos and certifications, some highly authoritative and credible, others decidedly less so.
The FTC is seeking public comments on the proposed changes until December 10, 2010, "after which it will decide which changes to make final."
The updating of these guides for the first time in 12 years has been greatly anticipated, seen as a watershed event, one aimed at curbing what some see as a veritable tsunami of greenwashing. (I'm not one of those. See my thoughts on greenwashing here and here.) Nonetheless, “We’ve seen an explosion of green claims,” as FTC Chairman Jon Leibowitz put it in today’s press conference.
In brief: The guides are a common-sense set of rules about what claims a company can and can't make, and what kind of substantiation and disclaimers are required for specific types of marketing messages. The original guides were intended to prohibit or clarify vague claims ("all-natural," "non-toxic," "safe for the environment") and curb the use of claims that, while technically true, were generally misleading — a "recyclable" product or package that hardly anyone could actually recycle, for example.
Some of this has been clarified or more fully defined in the new version. It also adds guidance on three new claims: “made with renewable materials,” “made with renewable energy” and “carbon offsets.”
Like their predecessors, the proposed updated guides represent a low bar, intended to eliminate outright misrepresentation and fabrications. Their updating do not herald a new era of green marketing. Despite some near-hysterical predictions, they aren't likely to "radically reshape how far marketers can go in painting their products, packaging or even corporate images green," as Advertising Age recently speculated.
For green marketers, it is not the end of the world as we know it. They won't likely change the landscape much, and most definitely won't eliminate critics' charges of "greenwashing."
It still isn't easy being -- well, you know.
The new guidelines, while in great need of a freshening up, don't really keep up with the world of sustainable business practices. I had a brief window into this in early 2008, a few months after the FTC first announced that it would update the guidelines. I was invited by the commission to meet in DC. At the time, the commission staff was focusing on packaging, in preparation for a workshop to be held in late April of that year.
In our meeting, FTC staffers described their focus on packaging — how they wanted to update the guidelines to reflect developments since 1998 — things like bio-based packaging, which wasn't addressed in the guidelines, compostable packaging, plant-based plastics, and other newfangled materials.
At one point I asked: "How do you plan to address claims about reduced packaging — or eliminating packaging altogether?" (And where would you put such claims if there's no packaging!)
The FTC folks hadn't considered this — and the proposed guidelines issued today don't mention it.
That brings up another shortcoming of today's guidelines. They don't address some of the more potent claims a company can make about its product or packaging. Cradle to Cradle, a standard that certifies products whose ingredients can be recycled back into nature or industrial processes — it's not mentioned. Biomimicry — products inspired by nature that use less energy and whose designs or materials mimic plants, bugs, sea life, and other critters — you won't find guidance for that. Green chemistry — the next-gen substitutes for some of the world's most toxic chemicals? It's nowhere to be found.
There's no guidance on the word "sustainable" or "sustainably." Or "green."
And so it goes. The FTC guidelines address only a tiny fraction of what companies are doing — the overt, relatively minor improvements companies make to their products and processes.
That's to be expected. The FTC was created to give consumers a voice in the marketplace. Its principal mission is consumer protection. And so the guidelines reflect only what companies choose to share with consumers.
But that's far from everything. There are 1,001 other things — the behind-the-scenes innovations that variously, and sometimes significantly, reduce water, energy, and materials intensity of so many of the everyday products we buy, sometimes far disproportionately to the relatively minor enhancements claimed by green marketers. The FTC offers no map for that.
Some activists and consumer advocates will no doubt be celebrating the new guidelines, while others will be bemoaning its low-common-denominator perspective. That's all fine. Both parties are right. It's not likely to alter the lives of green consumers much.
The "Green Guides" are finally out. Now, let's get on with our lives.
Joel Makower is Executive Editor of GreenBIz.com.
Today, a new sustainability standard for companies is being released for public comment: ULE 880 - Sustainability for Manufacturing Organizations, a partnership between UL Environment, a division of Underwriters Laboratories, and my colleagues at GreenBiz.com.
It is a day that I've been awaiting for the better part of a decade.
A 45-day comment period opens today, during which we're hoping you will review the draft standard and provide detailed feedback. (More about that in a minute, but if you're in a rush to get there, click here.)
ULE 880 is the first in a series of company-level standards and certifications that are being produced by this ULE-GreenBiz partnership. It results from about eight years of work — initially by a small team of us in Alameda County, California, and starting last year, between ULE and GreenBiz. (I previously provided the back story to this project here.)
The first draft of the standard is now complete, the product of a Herculean effort spearheaded by my friend and colleague Rory Bakke, director of sustainability at GreenBiz. Rory was lead author of the ULE 880, with assistance from me, a terrific team from UL Environment, and a small group of advisors.
ULE 880 covers five domains of sustainability:
- Sustainability Governance: how an organization leads and manages itself in relation to its stakeholders, including its employees, investors, regulatory authorities, customers, and the communities in which it operates
- Environment: an organization's environmental footprint across its policies, operations, products and services, including its resource use and emissions
- Workplace: issues related to employee working conditions, organization culture, and effectiveness
- Customers and Suppliers: issues related to an organization's policies and practices on product safety, quality, pricing, and marketing as well as its supply chain policies and practices
- Social and Community Engagement: an organization's impacts on its community in the areas of social equity, ethical conduct, and human rights
All told, there are 102 questions (or "indicators") in ULE 880, including 18 in Governance, 45 in Environment, 15 in Workforce, 15 in Customers and Suppliers, and 9 in Social and Community Engagement. The number of indicators doesn't reflect the weight each of these categories holds in the overall standard, however. Environment covers 80 points, Governance and Customers/Suppliers 40 each, and Workplace and Social/Community 20 each. There are also 18 "Innovation Points" — 3 points each for 6 different indicators — that reward companies for going above and beyond the standard.
But that doesn't mean the core standard is a low bar. It was designed to be comprehensive — that is, to the extent that indicators are measurable and verifiable. Among the core principles of ULE 880 is that it be both reasonably attainable (at the lowest level of certification) and a high bar of excellence (and the highest level of certification). This and other core principles behind the standard are spelled out in the document's introduction.
Why does Environment carry a disproportionate weight — 40 percent of the total? Therein lies one of many challenges the GreenBiz-ULE team faced. We set out to create a standard that is comprehensible, consistently applied, credible, measurable, relevant, and for which data is obtainable. As a rule, company environmental data is more widely tracked, analyzed, quantified, and defined consistently than social and governance data. For that reason, this version of ULE 880 is more heavily weighted toward environmental indicators. Over time, as companies seek certification under ULE 880 and the sustainability field continues to mature, we expect to refine the standard and potentially adjust its weighting of specific indicators and across issue areas.
Of course, all of this is subject to feedback, and that's where you come in. The stakeholder feedback period launching today — ending September 14 — is free and open to all. To participate, you must register, after which you'll receive a link to ULE's Collaborative Standards Development System, or CSDS, an online tool Underwrites Laboratories uses to develop its standards. Already, more than 100 companies and thought leaders have registered to review and comment.
In the CSDS, you'll be able to download ULE 880 or read an online version, the latter of which enables you to enter comments. You'll be able to read others' comments, and others will be able to read yours — an open and transparent process. Comments can be as broad or as specific as you wish.
"There's really no comment of a constructive nature that isn't potentially valuable," Daniel P. Ryan, Standards Technical Panel Chair at UL Environment, told me recently. Ryan — who's been with UL for 27 years, most of it in the standard-development process — continued:
"We want the standard to be clear and concise in language so that manufacturers can read a clause and understand what it means, clearly and without ambiguity. Similarly, we want auditors who might be assessing manufacturers to that standard to have the same understanding. So, even if we get comments from someone who is confused, that's really valuable input because it points us to something we thought was clear but obviously needs work."
This is just the beginning of the review process. "After the comment period closes, we'll sort through all of the input, break it down by topic and try to see the different facets of an issue various stakeholders are arguing," explains Ryan. "And then engage a smaller team of sustainability experts of diverse interests that will help guide the standard forward — how we should address the input we received."
The plan is to announce the first pilot companies for ULE 880 later this fall.
During the next 45 days, we're hoping to hear from a broad cross-section of those affected by or interested in ULE 880: manufacturers, assessment and standards groups, regulators, policy makers, procurement officers, sustainability professionals, the socially responsible investing community, and nonprofit sustainability interest groups.
I sincerely hope you will weigh in — and encourage your colleagues and stakeholders to do so, too.
On Monday, the United Kingdom's coalition government announced sweeping measures to cut its budget deficit, the second worst in the EU.
UK lawmakers should be applauded for addressing their government's funding gap, and not just pushing it onto their children, like the United States has done. One of the measures introduced by Prime Minister David Cameron was an increase in Value Added Tax -- a federal sales tax -- from 17.5 percent to 20 percent. It is time for the United States to follow suit.
Once upon a time, during the era of taxation without representation and a different kind of Tea Party, following the UK was heresy. But the United States is now facing three systemic, growing, 21st century challenges: a huge deficit, high unemployment and climate change. Leaders from Des Moines to DC are asking how they can provide necessary services without raising taxes, get more people working again, and get the energy they need without succumbing to King Coal or crapping all over the Gulf of Mexico.
There is a way out of this. Why not tax consumption, instead of production?
In the US, we are taxed by the federal government for what we earn, at a rate between 15 percent (top 50 percent of incomes) and 26 percent (top 1 percent of incomes). For those of you who like working hard, only to start actually earning money for yourself on Tuesday around lunchtime, read no further.
For the rest of us, let's entertain the glory of the Stuff Tax.
The More You Want, the More You Pay
There is no reason we should tax employment, work or production. The concept is a perversity that punishes the addition of value to society.
In contrast, a Stuff Tax would do exactly that: Tax the consumption of stuff. You would take home the lion's share of your paycheck each month. Consume nothing? Pay no taxes. Want to buy a snowmobile or a Ducati? Pay the tax.
Here is how it could work:
- Income taxes greatly reduced or abolished.
- Employment taxes greatly reduced or abolished.
- All products and services, with the exception of food, public transportation, some clothing and shelter (property/ rent) include a 20 percent federal government-levied tax.
We say we value work and entrepreneurship, and yet we tax them. As a nation we have not historically valued consumption, yet we encourage it. We do this because we have always done this, but there are other ways to raise funds for essential services and close the deficit, which was $1.67 trillion in 2009 (a threefold increase from 2008).
Each percentage point of Stuff Tax has been estimated to raise 0.4 percent of GDP, or $50 billion. A 20 percent Stuff Tax could therefore raise $1 trillion. That is equivalent to the income tax the federal government collects from all but 0.5 percent of Americans. Configured another way, a Stuff Tax would enable us to reduce employment tax by 50 percent, abolish income tax for 95 percent of Americans, and still come out ahead. Which do we value more, work or stuff?
Yes, a Stuff Tax would take a bite out of consumption initially. But that needs to happen anyway -- with consumption at 70 percent of GDP, we are completely addicted. Shifting taxes from production to consumption would help wean us from that addiction, spur new sectors of growth, and create a more diversified, and stable, national economy.
And the benefit to the environment? Creating stuff involves environmental costs- of extraction and pollution -- that are currently unaccounted for. Although it is a coarse tool, a Stuff Tax could acknowledge those externalities (similar to a Pigouvian Tax) and fund the appropriate mitigation. As we learn more, the Stuff Tax could be varied based on the impact that product or service has on the environment -- gas would carry a higher tax, for example, than birdseed.
A Stuff Tax will not solve all of our problems. But it would hold us all responsible for what we consume, encourage employment and nudge our economy in the right direction. Until then, Uncle Sam will keep earning his dime by taxing employment and work -- both the hairdresser who bikes to work and the hedge fund manager with two power boats and a private jet.
And that does not help our budget, our unemployed or our environment.
Stephen Linaweaver is an associate principal at GreenOrder, an LRN company. GreenOrder is a strategy and management consulting firm that helps companies achieve competitive advantage through environmental innovation. GreenOrder Senior Analyst Brad Bate contributed to this article.
Okay, I'll admit: The headline above is a bit of a come-on. I couldn't possibly do justice to the past 10 years' worth of green business activity — at least not in the following 1,500 or so words. But as we view the whatever-it's-called decade in the rearview mirror, it's tempting to assess what's transpired since the good old days of Y2K to see how far we've come — and how far we haven't. So, let's do that.
First, the good news: The greening of mainstream business has continued apace since the clock struck 2000, growing continually more rapidly as the decade wore on, even amid a Great Recession. The idea of green companies appears to have extended into the next concentric circle, beyond the true-blue, values-driven companies and the next tier of large leadership companies, to a third tier of companies that hadn't previously been concerned about global warming or other environmental issues. Today, it's hard to find a sizable company that isn't talking the talk and, to some degree, walking the walk. Trying to be seen as green is now more the rule than the exception.
The bar keeps rising, too: What seemed cutting-edge 10 years ago — carbon neutral products and companies, zero-waste factories, green chemistry, life-cycle analysis, green buildings — is now mainstream, or at least warrants a so-what? response when trumpeted by companies. Things that used to make headlines — or, at least, good promotional copy — are now business as usual.
And each year brings about a succession of whodathunk moments: Big-bad retailers committing to green up their supply chains, big-bad auto companies committing to transforming their products and manufacturing processes, big-bad packaged goods manufacturers launching green product lines, big-bad computer makers dramatically improving energy efficiency and recyclability, big-bad food processors and fast-food chains committing to sustainable sourcing, big-bad utilities committing to energy efficiency and renewables, and many other companies — big-bad and otherwise — announcing goals, partnerships, or achievements that wouldn't have seemed likely not that long ago.
Now, the big-bad news: Most companies are engaged in green business activities in only the most superficial ways, addressing just a small portion of their operations and impacts. Few have looked holistically at what they do from an environmental perspective, let alone made bold, audacious commitments to reduce their impacts or transform their products and processes to embrace a new green ethic. While more companies are engaged than ever before, their collective efforts are barely scratching the surface.
(On February 4, my colleagues and I at GreenBiz.com will issue our third annual State of Green Business report with specific measures of progress, or lack thereof. The report will debut at two State of Green Business Forums, in San Francisco and Chicago.)
So, while there is much to celebrate at the dawn of a new decade, there is a nagging feeling that much of this amounts to a false sense of hope — that all of this good news may be too little, too late. But maybe not.
In that decidedly indecisive context, here are three reasons why I'm discouraged, and three reasons that I have great hope for the decade ahead.
1. We're not moving the needle. As I said, the sum total of all this green business activity hasn't changed things much. Most global environmental indicators continue to head in the wrong direction. And where progress is evident, it isn't taking place at the scale and speed needed to address climate, water, air quality, toxicity, food security, biodiversity, and land-use challenges, among others. Even in developed economies like the U.S. and Europe, key indicators of progress — for example, the amount of energy and water consumed or waste and pollution emitted per unit of gross domestic product — has only mildly improved. In fast-growing developing economies — China, India, Southeast Asia, Latin America, and others — the story, in terms of consumption and emissions trends, is frightening.
2. The public still isn't getting it. There's little sense of urgency, and for good reason: Most people on the planet are focused like a laser on getting through the day — feeding and sheltering their families, staying alive and well, finding work, maintaining basic human dignities — and have little time or interest in protecting the commons. Meanwhile, the "haves" are largely focused on keeping what they've amassed, if not adding to it, and generally can't be bothered with the greater good. Most individuals have little understanding of the environmental impact of their lives, content to make a few simple, largely symbolic changes in their shopping or personal habits. As a result, consumer pressure on companies to transform their products and processes is relatively meek. Yes, there is a growing cadre of citizens concerned about the climate and other planetary ills, and a new generation entering the marketplace with a greater green ethic, but their power to effect change to date has been tepid at best.
3. There's little sense of urgency. In generations past, people took to the streets to protest wholesale injustices and inequities and, in the process, helped bring about sweeping changes, from the U.S. to the U.S.S.R. These masses were supported by political and business leaders who saw great opportunity in dramatic change, for both themselves and society in general. So, where are the masses marching in the streets demanding action on climate change in the name of future generations? Where is the anger over inaction on energy and climate issues — arguably among the greatest civil and human rights issues we've ever faced? Where is the bandwagon of consumer boycotts and shareholder actions forcing companies to respond? Where are the politicians expending their political capital fighting barriers to a green economy? Why aren't the threats to our security — food security, housing security, water security, energy security, national security — fomenting scores of green Manhattan and Apollo projects? Yes, there are encouraging examples of all of these things, but they are happening much too slowly and don't seem to be making much headway.
So much for the bad news. Amid all this, I'm encouraged, excited even, about where business is headed.
1. Green innovation is booming. There's a revolution taking place that even many of its participants can't yet see. It involves the confluence of energy, information, building, and vehicle technologies, and the promise of a wealth of impressive new goods and services. Some of these will be seen this decade in the emergence of the so-called smart grid, in which everything from appliances to automobiles are connected via two-way, always-on connections, enabling not just better management of energy resources, but an array of new capabilities that improve people's lives while reducing their impacts. These things may not be overtly marketed as "green," but much like the iPod and iTunes, they stand to transform how we live, work, drive, and play in ways that we can't yet imagine, while vastly reducing materials and energy needs. All of this will help to transform how companies think about what they do, leading to, among other things, closed-loop systems of commerce. And it's not just about technology. Innovations in food production, apparel and footwear manufacturing, and many other industrial processes and feedstocks are advancing faster than most people recognize.
2. Companies are reinventing themselves. Largely as a result of these innovations, companies will continue to find themselves crossing sectoral lines and entering new lines of business. I wrote in 2006 about the "new energy companies," old-line companies like chemical manufacturers, auto makers, IT companies, and food processors that have found themselves in the energy business. That trend has accelerated as the aforementioned technological convergence takes shape. So, too, with green building, as I noted recently: a new wave of old-line companies (think Firestone and Sanyo) are now in that sector, too. Each of these players brings new energy and momentum to the green business arena. Meanwhile, early-stage companies are getting out of the lab and off the ground, invigorated by capital flows that, while recently slowed, are beginning to rebound. Slowly but surely, some of these innovators are going public or are being swallowed by bigger fish, extending their capabilities and reach.
3. Sustainability is becoming about more than just the environment. This is long overdue. One of the more frustrating trends of the past decade was the conflating of "green" with "sustainability." The latter, of course, means much more than environmental responsibility, though you wouldn't know that listening to most corporate marketers and PR firms, which treated the two terms as one and the same. But that's changing. The social side of sustainability — a broad swath of topics including working conditions, community impacts, human rights, product safety, access to education and health care, increased opportunity for all, and more — is beginning to be considered by some large companies. It is showing up in corporate "responsibility" reports, of course, but also in the design and delivery of products and services for the poor, both in developed and developing countries. It is showing up in corporate concerns over obesity, product safety, access to clean water, and dozens of other things. Some of the companies involved were dragged to these issues by activists, but that's how many of today's environmental leaders were born — companies like Nike, McDonald's, Starbucks, Home Depot, and others. To be sure, the social side of sustainability remains early-stage, but the trends are encouraging.
At the end of the day — and the decade — how does all of this stack up? I won't venture to say. There are too many unknowables that could help or hinder the shift to greener companies and economies: the vagaries of world economics, rapid technological developments, dramatic political shifts, fast-emerging impacts of climate change, roller-coaster oil prices, natural disasters, populist movements, and many others.
One thing is certain about the green business decade before us: It will be at least as interesting as the one just passed. Whether that's a good thing or not remains to be seen.
Joel Makower is Executive Editor of GreenBiz.com and co-founder and chaiman of Greener World Media, Inc.
Everybody’s got one, but some years even our loved ones — not to mention our bosses — fail to ask. But we did: We asked some of GreenBiz.com’s valued readers what they felt proudest of over the past year, professionally speaking. We expected that many would simply answer, “Keeping my job!” or other such survivalist response. No one did.
Granted, the question was an underhand softball, ripe for hitting out of the park, so we expected boasting, and got it. Below is a sampling of what readers told us.
What’s your proudest professional accomplishment of the past twelve months? Feel free to weigh in.
— The Editors
Lynelle Cameron, Director of Sustainability, Autodesk
Autodesk developed a new approach that corporations can follow in setting targets to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. The approach, called C-FACT (Corporate Finance Approach to Climate Stabilization Targets) calls for companies to reduce GHG emissions in line with global scientific and policy climate stabilization targets, and in proportion to companies’ relative contribution to the economy, measured by gross domestic product. If all companies were to adopt this approach, private sector emissions would be on track to help stabilize the climate by 2050. Autodesk is making this approach open source so that other companies can adopt and build upon it. Read the white paper and watch the video here.
Michael Meehan, President & CEO, Carbonetworks
This year we helped over 8,000 sites around the world achieve their sustainability goals by managing and reducing their impact on the environment. And we are poised for thousands more in the coming months. We are very proud our company's contribution to reducing the environmental impact of business all over the globe.
Bill Morrissey, VP - Environmental Sustainability, The Clorox Company
After years of quiet eco achievements, Clorox finally went public and joined the EPA's Climate Leaders program, negotiated a GHG reduction goal (10% by 2013) with them, and went public with this goal in July 2009. Now, as a result of this public commitment, we have more internal company commitment to execute our GHG reduction action plan. Specifically, Clorox's Product Supply organization has adopted the expanded mandate to reduce GHG emissions of it's manufacturing and distribution operations, with GHG reduction investments being made, and GHG goals being pushed down to the plant manager level.
Fred Roselli, Communications Manager, Coca-Cola Enterprises
We hosted a Virtual Facility Tour this year, demonstrating our sustainable operations in Bellevue, WA. It was a great opportunity to showcase our work, but also to reward the team in Bellevue for such a great job – they’re almost at 100% waste reduction (99.85%), and for a facility of 300,00 square feet on 22 acres.
Jeff Rehm, Sustainability Manager, Grainger
The organization's commitment to Sustainability really began to gain momentum in 2009. We started the year with 3 LEED facilities and will have 10 by the end of the year. We remain the only Industrial Distributor to operate LEED facilities. We also became the first organization in our space to be recognized as an EPA SmartWay certified shipper. Both of these are great examples of how sustainability is permeating every facet of how we do business. From adopting LEED standards for new branch construction, to participating in numerous recycling programs, to working with the U.S. Green Building Council, the company is helping to preserve the natural resources within the communities where it does business.
Daniel A. Daggett, Manager, Corporate Sustainability, JohnsonDiversey
In 2009 JohnsonDiversey tripled the target for greenhouse gas emissions, increasing from a 2008 commitment to reduce emissions 8% year to a 25% reduction. JohnsonDiversey employees around the world saw firsthand how our sustainability strategy have a positive impact on the planet as well as our profitability. In 2010, we will continue to build on that success both internally and with suppliers and customers.
Adam Lowry, Co-Founder and Chief Greenskeeper, Method
Participating in the policy-making processes of the Obama Administration and COP15. Method was born in part out of my frustration at being ineffective as a scientist trying to lead policy change. I believe business is a better way to catalyze massive positive change, and that it will be politics that follows business, not the other way around. Being given a seat at the table in these forums because of what method's done is a great validation of that.
Dennis Salazar, President, Salazar Packaging, Inc.
Internally we understand the environmental impact of our work but recognition from the outside is rare for a company like ours that works in commodity”= packaging products. However, last month we were nominated for Green America’s annual Green Business Leadership Award, which was an unexpected surprise and accomplishment. Even though we did not win, as they say, it was an honor to be nominated, especially for a young company and relatively new Green America member.
Brandi McManus, Vice President of Energy Solutions, Schneider Electric
For our customers, we provide aggressive energy efficiency projects that reduce their energy use and carbon footprints. In the last year, Schneider Electric customers collectively saved almost US$500 million on energy bills and reduced their carbon emissions by 6.8 million tons. That is equivalent to planting almost 1 million acres of trees! When I think about our products and services in these terms, I know that we make a real and positive impact on the planet and society.
Albe Zakes, Vice President of Media Relations, TerraCycle, Inc.
With the help of almost 60,000 schools and community groups nationwide and the support of 16 major brands, TerraCycle collected over 1 billion pre- and post-consumer pieces of packaging. Plus new technology we are developing will enable us to reuse any amount of waste by processing once non-recyclable packaging into eco-friendly building materials.
George Ahn, CEO and President, TRIRIGA
Our biggest accomplishment this year was to receive AMR Research’s Leadership in Sustainability award for our environmental sustainability solution, TREES. AMR Research is the leading research firm focused on sustainability strategies and its annual Leadership Award for Sustainability recognizes the industry’s best. This award provides one of the best endorsements TRIRIGA can receive and reflects the months of investment, exceptional delivery and strength of our employees. TRIRIGA’s employees feel very proud of this accomplishment.
This month, Earthbound Farm and Naked Juice have announced they're each putting out products in plastic packaging made with 100 percent post-consumer recycled (PCR) content.
Each company's recycled products are PET plastic (identified by the resin code 1), the most widely-recycled plastic. Naked Juice is converting all of its 32 ounce bottles to its recycled reNEWabottle this month, and the company plans to have all of its plastic packaging switched to the recycled alternative in 2010.
All of the recycled content bottles (right) will be clear, instead of translucent like the current bottles. Once the full conversion is complete, Naked Juice will have transitioned 8.1 million pounds of virgin plastic a year to recycled plastic.
Earthbound Farm has already converted its entire line of plastic clamshell packages (left) for its salads to 100 percent PCR plastic. By switching to only recycled plastic, the company estimates it's conserving 424,000 million BTUs of energy and 68,307 gallons of water, reducing carbon dioxide emissions by 16,191 tons and using 1.3 million pounds of post-consumer plastic a year.
The two companies' efforts are the first in each of their industries to utilize 100 percent PCR plastic. Some companies like Method have been using 100 percent PCR content, but not in food or drink applications. And few in the food and drink industry have attained high levels of PCR content. Coca-Cola, for example, has less than 4 percent recycled material in its PET bottles and is trying to work that up to 10 percent.
Naked Juice bottles - CC license by Thirteen Of Clubs
The ninth annual assessment of corporate sustainability trends and metrics, paints a picture that is both optimistic and highly problematic, including data on 1,600 companies worldwide, as well as on the U.S.-based S&P 500.