The annual publication of the State of Green Business Report drew sustainability experts of all kinds to San Francisco in the first of two U.S. events presented by Greener World Media. While the State of the Union delivered in Washington was a stark reminder of the impact of a tough economic year, the State of Green Business Forum gives hope to sustainability supporters and solid indicators of the steady growth of a green economy.
At the PG&E Auditorium in downtown San Francisco, Joel Makower presented the 2010 State of Green Business Report -- a compilation of over 1500 news stories, blogs, and media collected from all sources of Greener World Media, including GreenBiz.com, GreenerBuildings, ClimateBiz, and others. Editors ploughed through massive amounts of information to come up with 10 major trends in green business and 20 indicators of progress towards a green economy.
The good news is that despite the economic challenges of 2009, sustainability has not diminished on the radars of companies looking to go green. Among the trends noted, the report indicates that 2009 was a time when the idea of the green economy realized its worth, with promises of a cleantech revolution (including a future of alternative energy, a smartgrid, and electric vehicles) and green jobs that would restore America’s status as a world leader in technology echoing from investors, innovative startups, corporate giants, and the White House.
The bad news is that many out of work Americans are still waiting for these green jobs to materialize. Explanations for the lack of green jobs were that companies either didn’t have a budget for hiring, opted to hire from within, or had expectations of green expertise and experience candidates just don’t have yet.
In response to companies’ needs, universities are preparing to train the next generation of environmental experts. The State of Green Business report noted a rise in offerings for sustainability programs, including sustainable MBA programs, and the first doctoral degree in sustainability offered by the Rochester Institute of Technology. In order to make sense of the diverse offerings in this emerging field, prospective students can consult the Aspen Institute’s Guide to Socially Responsible MBA Programs, or GreenReportCard.org.
Breakthroughs in corporate commitments to sustainability were also noted in the report, including GE’s plan to cut water used by 20 percent by 2012, Cisco’s commitment to cut emissions by 25 percent, also by 2012, and JohnsonDiversey’s investment of nearly $14 million to reduce its carbon footprint. The launch of Walmart’s Sustainability Index, which asks nearly 60,000 suppliers to answer questions about greenhouse gas emissions and measure to reduce solid waste, along with a recent ruling by the SEC requiring companies to report climate risk were major steps towards corporate environmental accountability.
Consumer attitudes towards sustainability were also a topic of interest at the Forum. In an age of green marketing and the proliferation of information about products from cradle to the grave, decisions can be difficult even for a conscious consumer. Surveys indicate that although consumers claim to want to shop green, they don’t buy companies’ green claims. According the report, nearly 60 percent of people surveyed would like to see more regulation of green claims. Dara O’Rourke, founder of the GoodGuide, spoke of the need to make the information accessible in an easily understandable manner right at the point of purchase. Wendy Cobdra, president of Earthsense, cited the Green Confidence Index as a good resource to gauge Americans’ changing perceptions of environmental responsibility in leaders, institutions, and organizations.
Of course, the promise a green economy raises interest in new business opportunities in cleantech. With the help of a panel of executives from Best Buy, Autodesk, and Serious Materials, Marc Gunther of GreenBiz explored how the fields of business and sustainable technology are merging. Rick Rommel of Best Buy emphasized that market demand for green products will ensure their appearance on the market, illustrating with a local example of Best Buy selling electric scooters and bikes in the San Francisco Bay Area, as well as Portland and other cities on the West Coast. Kevin Surace, CEO of Serious Materials, attributed the immense success of his company to listening to customers’ needs (as well as complaints) and designing better building materials.
As for the role of policy in the State of Green Business, Van Jones made a brief appearance via telephone to emphasize that the green economy is alive and well. In a dialogue with Joel Makower, he urged businesspeople to see the connections between economic opportunity and prosperity through the lens of sustainability, and gave an update that a good amount of green stimulus money from the government is still on the table. The session continued with a panel that affirmed that the lack of an agreement to emissions limits in Copenhagen did not mean businesses were off the hook. The recent World Economic Forum in Davos was also mentioned as an international checkpoint in the race towards a green economy.
Peggy Liu, co-founder of the Joint US-China Coalition on Climate and Energy (or JUCCCE), portrayed China as a viable and eager partner in this race rather than a threat. Through her work in spreading sustainability practices throughout China, Liu has spotted opportunity for Western companies to lend their expertise in customized solutions to environmental problems on an enormous scale. China’s commitment to going green, its economic strength and political ability to accomplish vast initiatives rapidly, and its need for solutions makes it a perfect market for emerging green technologies.
The day rounded out with a panel of powerhouse tech companies discussing the role that IT can play in making the world a greener place. Microsoft, IBM, Intel, and SAP shared a stage to present scenarios of a conscious, tech-enabled future. Possibilities ranged IBM’s traffic prediction tool in Singapore to Microsoft’s Smart Home. As for green technology the world of business, SAP and Microsoft announced a partnership with the Carbon Disclosure Project last year that helps streamline the process by which companies report their greenhouse gas emissions.
You can find out more about the speeches given at the State of Green Business Forum here.
Agnes Mazur is a sustainability enthusiast based in San Jose, Calif. After completing her studies in Political Science, Spanish, and French at San Jose State University, she worked as a reporter in her native city of Warsaw, Poland. She has since returned to the Bay Area where she works as a policy analyst for C3 and contributes to various efforts in sustainability including organizing an urban gardening project, researching up-and-coming green businesses, and attending various conferences about environmental sustainability. She hopes her love of world travel, nature and innovation can help change the world.
Image credits: Greener World Media
Just wanted to make sure you saw this opinion-editorial I co-wrote with Urban Harvest for yesterdays Omaha World-Herald about urban and vertical gardening in the heart of Africa's large slum Kibera in Nairobi, Kenya. Here is the link, post to our blog at the Worldwatch Institute called "Nourishing the Planet": http://blogs.worldwatch.org/nourishingtheplanet/omaha-world-herald-kenyan-farmers-persevere-despite-cultivation-challenges/
All the best, Danielle Nierenberg (www.borderjumpers.org)