It’s Not Easy Being Green

Sustainability may be more … much more … than being green, but that doesn’t mean one should ignore the great article that recently popped up over on Chief Executive.

The article essentially starts off by noting that while CEOs would argue that global warming is a legitimate universal problem to be solved, they may not be as clear on which of the dizzying array of green products, strategies and promises are, in fact, about sustainability. What impact will a “green” strategy have on the environment? shareholder value? corporate finances? and how do you know if the strategy is “green“? A CEO can’t just do what she believes is right – because it’s not the company’s money, it’s the shareholder’s money. She has to balance on what is currently a tightrope walk between fiduciary responsibility and environmental correctness. She has to find the “zen of being green” – the sweet spot – that represents a decision that is good for the environment, the company, and thus the shareholders.

The article then notes that a good place to start is with conservation strategies. For example, with today’s skyrocketing energy costs, energy conservation will save your company big bucks. Waste reduction in manufacturing will allow you to produce more with less. Paper reduction will also save big – in cost and in environmental impact. And efficiency will provide cost savings all around.

Now it’s true that not every cost-efficient strategy will be environmentally friendly, just like not every environmentally friendly strategy will be cost-efficient, but since companies are going to pay one way or the other – either today by adopting more environmentally friendly practices across the board or tomorrow when they are regulated, fined, or both – companies need to start taking environmental sustainability and green seriously today. Besides, as adoption of new practices and environmentally friendly materials grows, economies of scale will eventually kick in.

The article also notes that not only do consumers expect companies to make money and profit from the sustainability work they do but that they are starting to realize that if it’s not financially sustainable, it’s not going to be environmentally sustainable. This is good news. You can’t save the whales if you can’t save yourself. (And, if you’re truly innovative, there’s no good reason why you should not be able to do both!)

The article also includes a short check-list of five things to consider while developing your earth-friendly strategy.

  • Don’t Fudge!
    If you’re behind the green curve, and your customers are noticing, don’t rush out with a half-baked scheme – otherwise, you’re likely to be labeled as a “greenwasher” or a “green-lite” organization, and will earn the scorn of the watchdogs and consumers you were hoping to impress.
  • Pick the Low-Hanging Fruit.
    Start small and wring out energy costs, for example. Gain knowledge, save money, and keep investors calm before going for the big win.
  • Partner Wisely.
    Work with organizations that have proven success rates that will work with you, not just the first nonprofit that calls. The local non-profit might have great passion for the environment, but if they’ve never worked with an organization of your size before …
  • Show Your Work.
    The best defense against a “greenwashing” label is transparency. Be sure to tell your story in a metrics-driven, fact-based manner.
  • Get the Word Out.
    Once you have an authentic, successful green strategy, advertise.