Skeptical commentators have almost gleefully proclaimed that the "green bubble has burst." Meanwhile, T. Boone Pickens mothballed $2 million of wind turbines, and in what is perhaps the unkindest cut, Lake Superior State University included the word "green" on its annual "List of Words to Be Banished for Mis-use, Over-use and General Uselessness."
If all that "green nonsense" is out of our systems, can lawyers, bankers, insurers, and others in the professional services industry revert back to our comfortable, inefficient ways of the past?
Innovators are putting the "evolution" back in the green revolution. So, before you jump off the bandwagon, here are five reasons why green is still growing and why it matters now more than ever:
Innovation is Timeless
Reverting to old, wasteful ways is the best way to follow the dinosaurs to extinction. Innovations that are inspired by the wisdom of nature are the path to economic recovery.
Some of the most innovative thinking about renewable energy and materials, for example, focuses on one of the most basic life forms. That would be algae.
Some say humble pond scum could be a renewable fuel, food and feed for the future. Ross Youngs, CEO of AlgaeVenture Systems in Marysville, Ohio, turned his focus to algae after designing the bio-plastic DVD sleeve for "An Inconvenient Truth." AlgaeVenture drew inspiration from natural processes (e.g., capillary effect, cohesion, absorption and transpiration pull) to develop a scalable prototype that promotes algae growth.
Beyond being renewable, algae can actually remediate tainted bodies of water, can be grown almost anywhere in the U.S., and by-products can be synthesized into plastics and other materials. Some are even classified as a "superfood" for human consumption. That green slime on your swimming pool never looked so good.
Green Incentives = Business Opportunities
Green building and construction offer great business opportunities to lenders, lawyers and insurers. Since the up-front cost (real and/or perceived) of green "upgrades" can be a tough sell, private and governmental incentives can help bridge the gap.
The City of Berkeley, Calif., for instance, created the "FIRST" program, which lets property owners borrow money to install solar photovoltaic energy systems and repay the loan over 20 years through an annual property tax.
Portland, Ore., is developing a "feebate" program whereby every new building is assessed a fee that goes into a fund that is waived when the building achieves lower levels of LEED certification; a rebate is issued for higher certification levels. On the other side of the country, Washington, D.C.'s Green Building Act of 2006 is a comprehensive adoption of green building standards.
Green building incentives are far from the exclusive domain of the coasts. Chicago offers expedited permitting and a host of other incentives (PDF), while buildings in Cinncinatti that earn LEED certification receive an automatic 100 percent property tax exemption. Even smaller towns like Fairfield, Iowa, are developing strategic plans that include green building incentives and feebates. In Worthington, Ohio, new buildings and remodels that achieve LEED certification can receive grants for up to 3 percent of construction or renovation costs.
Professional services firms who know what incentives are available in their area will be better positioned to serve the architects, engineers, developers, and contractors who create green buildings.
Top Talent Gravitates to Green
Your company's future talent might be green-schooled from elementary to post-grad. Champions like Franklin Brown helped push the Ohio School Facilities Commission to adopt LEED Silver certification as the standard for all future public K-12 school construction (and secured $4.3 billion in funding). All across the country, the Solar for our Schools ("S4RS") program educates students and teachers on the functions and benefits of solar electric power.
In the higher education arena the College Sustainability Report Card lists 15 "College Sustainability Leaders," and several universities offer post-graduate "green MBA" programs.
Your newest hires and prospects are probably tech-savvy, collaborative, socially conscious (and perhaps green-schooled) Millennials. They have researched what companies are responsible global citizens and, once hired, they will Tweet the world about what their employer is doing (for good or for bad). Greater efficiency, less waste, and more sustainable practices can improve your bottom line and your ability to attract (and keep) top talent.
We Are What We Eat
Diet-related health problems and absenteeism cost businesses billions of dollars every year. Fresh, healthy, local foods are part of the solution.
Before Food, Inc. called out corporate agriculture, local produce was already the No. 1 trend on the American Culinary Federation's "What's Hot" list (PDF) for 2009. Restaurants are just the tip of the iceberg, as national food supplier Sysco launched the "Local Crop" program, an "online farmer's market" listing local foods that are ripe, fresh, and available for purchase. Grocery stores such as Safeway and Whole Foods are beginning to lure locavores by promoting partnerships with regional farmers and showing customers where their food comes from.
Businesses can grow local foods figuratively and literally. By providing financial support to not-for-profits like Local Matters, businesses help expand implementation of a school curriculum designed to combine edible food gardens with education about nutritious eating habits, as well as working to deliver fresh local foods to urban communities. Sponsoring company gardens is another great way to promote camaraderie and healthy lifestyle choices.
At least one commentator posits that the recession has "intensified reluctance to pursue greenness at a cost to economic growth." Mr. Commentator, meet Walmart.
Lower prices and lower waste go hand-in-hand, as Walmart committed to reducing plastic bag use by 33 percent in each store by 2013. The same company that bluntly declared "we are not green" also plans to help create a database to educate customers about the sustainability of products they purchase.
The symbiosis between greenness and growth might be new to Walmart, but not S.C. Johnson, which first installed air pollution controls in the 1950s, voluntarily eliminated CFC's from aerosols in the 1970s, and won the World Environment Centre Gold Medal in the 1990s. More recently, S.C. Johnson established the Greenlist process to increase the use of environmentally preferred raw materials, and has pledged to source 40 percent of its global electricity from green energy by 2010.
The bottom line: Landfills aren't getting smaller and the natural resources that we've traditionally relied upon are finite. The future will be shaped not by myopic pundits, but by innovators like AlgaeVenture Systems, bottom-liners like Walmart, and socially committed companies like S.C. Johnson, who see being environmentally friendly as a means to -- not a cost of -- economic growth. Those of us in the service industry must do our part to adopt more sustainable practices and support innovative thinkers. Green is dead. Long live green.
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