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Green Business: Inching Closer to Business As Usual

A Report from the State of Green Business Forum

By Mary Catherine O'Connor

Americans today, it seems, are alternately drunk on hope—thanks to the promise of a new Administration—and drowning in despair, thanks to just about every news story we read. Your level of hope-drunkenness is likely a reflection of your employment status and financial standing.

But guess what? If your job title includes the word "sustainability" or "environment," you might have a leg up on everyone else. Or so said Worldchanging ally Joel Makower, executive editor of Greener World Media, while introducing his firm's second annual State of Green Business report at the State of Green Business Forum in San Francisco on February 2. The report rates how well -- or how poorly -- US firms are faring from an environmental perspective.

In the past economic downturns, companies were quick to fire their internal environmental teams in order to save money, Makower said. Not this time around. Instead, "companies are starting to see these teams as a way to grow their top line."

As proof, he points to a handful of headlines, all published in the 90 days since Barack Obama won the US presidency, that show major corporations — the likes of Coca Cola and Wal-Mart — making significant strides toward greening their businesses.

"This is not a drill," he said. "It's not a feel-good activity. This has become part of the fabric of business." And the State of Green Business report fleshes out this sentiment. Companies are using less water and energy per dollar of gross domestic product. They are using less paper and recycling more of what they do use. The power grid is, indeed, getting smarter. Technologies are coming up with promising new and efficient means of doing business and capitalists are funding their ideas.

Illustration by Seth Fields, from GreenBiz.com's State of Green Business Report 2009
Copyright Greener World Media
greenbusinesscleantech.jpg

That said, not all of the 20 indicators that make up the Green Business Index, which is the real meat of the study, are on a positive tack. While there are encouraging signs, there's much work to be done to produce green corporate strategies that truly change the way business impacts the planet.

For example, the amount of toxic substances that companies are emitting or using in their product manufacturing isn't falling as quickly as it needs to fall. Construction has lost its green steam, too. The energy efficiency of buildings had been on the upswing, overall, with the number of structures given the Energy Star blessing more than doubling in 2008. But, the report states, the "dire straits of the capital markets has turned commercial real estate topsy-turvy, with developers and landlords hoping to hang on to their buildings, let alone green them up. The result is that the industry has been shaken at its foundation — slowing, if not stopping, progress."

Finally, three of the indicators—carbon intensity, e-waste, and the number of workers who are telecommuting — are, just like the economy, sinking. The study found that when it comes to carbon emissions, corporations are not making any real progress: "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. That’s the smallest annual decrease since 2002, when intensity improved 0.4 percent." The report goes on to say: "Scientists are warning that emissions need to drop 80 percent in absolute terms by 2050. That won’t happen at the current rate of change. It could take a near-complete overhaul of the economy and comprehensive and creative government mandates to get us there." Ouch.

Illustration by Seth Fields, from GreenBiz.com's State of Green Business Report 2009
Copyright Greener World Media
greenbusinesstelecommutegraph.jpg

E-waste has become a household term and media exposure has raised public awareness about the ills it brings to places such as Ghana and parts of Asia, and the dire need for oversight. But the pile of e-waste that companies are making is growing, while the amount of that waste being responsibly collected and recycled isn’t keeping pace — despite the fact, Makower says, that there's ten times as much copper and gold buried in electronics, requiring less energy to extract than the copper and gold buried in the earth.

All this said, Makower is hopeful for the future of green business because while corporations haven't so far really walked their green talk, they also didn't get much support from upstairs, so to speak. "It's encouraging how much has happened over the past eight years—that is to say, despite the lack of government leadership," he said.

Going forward, Makower seems hopeful that the corporate sector will continue to make strides in energy efficiency, aided largely by new technology. In his words:

"I think we're going to see a convergence of technologies – a mash-up among energy information technology, the built environment, and the automotive sector. We're going to start to see the confluence of those sectors in ways that we haven't seen before. Buildings and vehicles are going to start to talk to utilities and to individual homes and businesses, thanks to a range of smart technologies. The analogy I use for that is the development of computing over the past several decades. If you think about the beginning of computing, where you had a big mainframe surrounded by dumb terminals. Over time, those dumb terminals got smarter and more efficient and were able to start having conversations with other terminals and eventually with just about everything."

(Editor's note: For more on what Joel is talking about, see our post on the Smart Garage)

Starting conversations is one of the objectives that Makower and his GreenBiz.com team pursued during the day-long forum that followed the release of the report and included panels on innovation, building better buildings, green jobs creation and the hoped-for policy changes that the Obama Administration is promising.

Despite the sour economy – or maybe because of it – panelists expressed an enduring hope for our ability to steer corporations into a bright green future.

Panelist Ian Kim, director of the Green-Collar Jobs Campaign at the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights (http://www.ellabakercenter.org/page.php?pageid=1), said "when we started the green jobs campaign, [we were in] a growth economy and the green economy was going to be the best thing to come out of that economy. Now, the green economy is the only way out [of the recession]."

You can download the State of Green Business report here.

Freelance writer Mary Catherine O'Connor lives in San Francisco, with her husband, dog, and five bikes.

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Comments

The news on the greening of America's businesses is mixed, but going in the right direction. However, given the gap between where corporations are and where we need them to be ("emissions need to drop 80 percent in absolute terms by 2050"), we should be repeatedly asking how to achieve LEVERAGE and SCALE in helping businesses "go green".

Leverage means identifying those few approaches and actions likely to have the biggest impact with the smallest use of resources and time. One example is CERES' work in pulling together industry consortia to agree on where to focus their energy (no pun intended) and efforts. Another is focusing on the industries, like cement and energy production, which have the biggest negative impact. Underlying any approach

Leverage provides scale, as identifying the critical few efforts with the biggest impact makes it more likely that we'll get the most done in the shortest time. Achieving scale also means identifying what it will take to make more significant change happen more quickly. One example is Adam Werbach's decision to partner with Walmart. As he says, "somewhere between 10 percent and 20 percent of Americans have an intimate connection with Wal-Mart." THAT'S scale.

I have three ideas for achieving leverage & scale in greening corporations.

1. Implement cap & trade, carbon taxes, or both. Nothing will get corporations acting faster than impacting their bottom lines.
2. A growing number of corporations are hiring people to manage their sustainability efforts. But they are drawing on a very limited pool of people. And while there are a growing number of sustainability/green consulting firms and management consulting firms are hopping on the green bandwagon, this organic approach (people see a market opportunity and form firms or divisions to go after it) provides some leverage, but not nearly enough scale. We need to analyze how to significantly increase the industry/sector-based efforts, perhaps by significantly expanding the type of work CERES does, and/or creating a federal effort to do this. One model for this would be the Baldrige Award approach to quality improvement.
3. The thousand and one environmental non-profits like NRDC and Environmental Defense, while they do essential work, are missing a huge opportunity to significantly increase their leverage and scale. A key way to do this would be to form a national trade association, similar to the National Federation of Independent Businesses or the American Banker's Association. These groups allow a forum for their members to reach consensus on the most critical issues facing them, and to focus resources (especially lobbying dollars) to address these issues.

I'm sure there are lots of other great ideas. The important thing is to keep asking ourselves, what will give us LEVERAGE and SCALE?


Posted by: Peter Hess on 5 Feb 09

Both the economy and thinking need renovation that seems to include demolition. RePowering Americans™ goes beyond the concept of "sustainability" by teaching and incentivizing human beings in ways that seek to ensure ongoing and increasing quality of life benefits are created and can be accessed by present and future generations.


Posted by: Stephanie Sulger on 6 Feb 09

AUS EINEM AUSLAGEBETRAG 10 000 EURO SEIEN BINNEN 30 JAHREN SO 92 441 EURO
GEWORDEN

von Raivo Pommer

Noch höhere Verluste verzeichneten Fonds mit Schwerpunkt Europa (minus 44,9 Prozent), teilt der Bundesverband Investment und Asset Management (BVI) in Frankfurt mit. Dagegen haben sich Offene Immobilienfonds den Angaben nach in der Finanzkrise solide gezeigt: Sie erwirtschafteten im vergangenen Jahr im Durchschnitt einen Gewinn von 4,7 Prozent. Euro-Rentenfonds legten um durchschnittlich 3,7 Prozent zu. Rentenfonds mit internationalem Schwerpunkt verloren binnen Jahresfrist 0,4 Prozent. Der Statistik liegen die Zahlen zum Ende des vierten Quartals 2008 zugrunde.

Besonders positiv entwickelten sich aufgrund des Wechselkurses zum Euro die Rentenfonds mit dem Anlageschwerpunkt US-Dollar: Sie erwirtschafteten nach Angaben des BVI eine Rendite von 6,3 Prozent. Auf lange Sicht sind auch Aktienfonds weiter im Plus: So legten Aktienfonds mit Anlageschwerpunkt Deutschland über 25 Jahre um durchschnittlich 7,4 Prozent, über 30 Jahre gesehen um 7,7 Prozent pro Jahr zu. Aus einem Anlagebetrag von 10 000 Euro seien binnen 30 Jahren so 92 441 Euro geworden.


Posted by: raivo pommer on 8 Feb 09

GREEN BUSINESS CERTIFICATION...
Institute for Green Business Certification, Inc
gbcertified.org


Posted by: Garry H. Peterson on 9 Feb 09

Raivo Pommer
raimo1@hot.ee

Depfa Bank Krise

Es handelt sich dabei um eine nachrangige Anleihe über 500 Millionen Euro. Die für den 21. März geplante Zinszahlung falle nach einem Beschluss des Verwaltungsrats der Depfa aus.

Eine Entscheidung zu ähnlichen Papieren der Depfa stehe noch aus. "Diese Nachricht könnte das Vertrauen in das Marktsegment erschüttern", kommentierten Anleihenhändler.

"Das ist ein politisches Debakel", sagte Bankenprofessor Klaus Fleischer von der Fachhochschule München. Schließlich seien die Garantien und Hilfen des staatlichen Rettungsfonds Soffin in Höhe von mehr als 102 Milliarden Euro in die HRE-Gruppe geflossen, "um Schaden vom Kapitalmarkt abzuwenden".

Nach Angaben der HRE hat die Bankengruppe vier Nachranganleihen im Volumen von insgesamt 1,55 Milliarden Euro ausstehen. Zinstermine sind im März, im Juni und im Oktober. Der Analysedienst Dealogic gibt den Gesamtmarkt vergleichbarer Nachranganleihen in Europa mit 300 Milliarden Euro an.


Posted by: depfa on 4 Mar 09

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