State of Green Business Report 2008

If one were to rely strictly on the headlines — from the mainstream media, the business press, the blogosphere, and all the rest — it would be easy to conclude that the greening of business practices has reached a tipping point. The daily drumbeat of announcements and achievements has grown in recent years. Hardly a week goes by when there isn’t a new development: a corporate commitment, a technological breakthrough, a new partnership addressing environmental challenges, or a new finding from a government agency, university lab, or research group about the progress being made.

Amid the cacophony of developments there is progress, but it’s not always obvious or straightforward. And the progress itself can be illusory. Which led us to ask: What’s really going on? Does all of this amount to a sea change in business, or merely a midcourse correction? And, most importantly: Is it actually making a difference to the environment? We set out to find answers.

It wasn’t easy. There’s insufficient data to show how companies are doing, in aggregate, to move the needle on issues like climate change, toxics reduction, water conservation, and resource efficiency — at least in the United States, the main focus of our inquiry. In a few cases, it’s nearly impossible to tell whether indicators of progress are moving forward or backward.

Where we are able to measure, the verdict is mixed: Companies are getting cleaner and more efficient, but only incrementally, and many of the gains are offset by the ever-growing economy. So, while greenhouse gas emissions per dollar of economic activity may be dropping, the growing economy means those emissions are largely unchanged. Those mixed results notwithstanding, there is much to celebrate. In the pages that follow, we review the past year of trends and developments; present the inaugural edition of the GreenBiz Index, which we’ll be updating annually; and proffer our picks on the best books, websites, reports, tools, and headlines of 2007.

The state of green business is improving, slowly but surely, as companies both large and small learn the value of integrating environmental thinking into their operations in ways that align with core business strategy and bottom-line goals. Green business has shifted from a movement to a market. But there is much, much more to do.
— Joel Makower, Executive Editor