State of Green Business 2009

Last year, when we launched the inaugural State of Green Business report, we set out to measure the environmental impacts of the growing green economy. We were sobered and encouraged by what we found. Our efforts to measure, for the first time ever, whether and how companies were reducing their environmental impacts revealed mixed results: More companies were doing more things, but moving the needle of environmental progress only slightly, if at all.

This year’s update is a similar mixed bag of encouraging and discouraging news. 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.

Consider: Absolute greenhouse gas emissions grew 1.4 percent in 2007 over 2006 but shrank 0.6 percent per unit of GDP — the smallest annual decrease since 2002. Or consider electronic waste: Despite widespread discussions in boardrooms and legislatures about the dangers of e-waste, we recycled only a tiny fraction more e-waste in 2007 than the year before, even as the amount of e-waste entering the waste stream grew substantially.

Still, there is reason for optimism. 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.

Of course, all this is taking place during a time of staggering turbulence in the economy, and at the dawn of a new political era in the United States, the combination of which is causing both uncertainty and excitement over the notion of a green economy as a means of national economic and environmental security. As this report is being published, we stand on the cusp of a potential explosion of new ideas, inventions, and initiatives, but face great questions about whether there will be sufficient resources to bring them to fruition.

At the end of the day, the questions remain: Are we moving far enough, fast enough? Does the ever-growing green activity in the business world represent a true transformation, one capable of adequately addressing pressing issues like climate change, air quality, the loss of species, and the looming water crisis? Or is it merely nibbling at the edges of the problems? Reasonable minds can justifiably argue both sides.

The coming year will be a critical one for the future of green business and, by extension, the future of the planet.
Joel Makower, Executive Editor, Greener World Media, Inc.

  • Introduction
  • Top Green Stories of 2008
    • • The Green Economy Gains Currency
    • • Water Becomes the New Carbon
    • • Building Efficiency Rises Again
    • • Universities Take Class Actions
    • • Green Moves Up, and Down, the Chain of Command
    • • Product Stewardship Creates a Material Change
    • • TGreen Marketing Suffers a Failure to Communicate
    • • Carbon Becomes a Business Imperative
    • • Information Technology Plugs Into Green
    • • Greener Design Comes Out of the Lab
  • The GreenBiz Index
    • • Introduction
    • • Summary Chart
    • • Building Energy Efficiency
    • • Carbon Intensity
    • • Carbon Transparency
    • • Cleantech Investments
    • • Clean-Energy Patents
    • • Corporate Reporting
    • • Employee Commuting
    • • Employee Telecommuting
    • • Energy Efficiency
    • • E-Waste
    • • Financial Impacts
    • • Green Jobs
    • • Green Office Space
    • • Green Power Use
    • • Packaging Intensity
    • • Paper Use and Recycling
    • • Toxic Emissions
    • • Toxics in Manufacturing
    • • Water Intensity
    • • Credits / About Greener World Media