Businesspeople and consumers are increasingly aware of the unsustainability of producing the goods we use every day. Recently, a number of business innovators have tried to develop green businesses, which produce environmentally and socially sound products. Environmentally conscious, or “green,” companies, such as the Body Shop, Patagonia, Aveda, Malden Mills, Johnson and Johnson, and others, have shown that operating according to the principles of sustainable development and environmental protection can be good for public relations, employee morale, and sales.
Goals for an Eco-Efficient Economy
• Introduce no hazardous materials into the air, water, or soil.
• Measure prosperity by how much natural capital we can accrue in productive ways.
• Measure productivity by how many people are gainfully and meaningfully employed.
• Measure progress by how many buildings have no smokestacks or dangerous effluents.
• Make the thousands of complex governmental rules that now regulate toxic or hazardous materials unnecessary.
• Produce nothing that will require constant vigilance from future generations.
• Celebrate the abundance of biological and cultural diversity.
• Live on renewable solar income rather than fossil fuels.
Green business works because consumers are becoming aware of the ecological consequences of their purchases. Increasing interest in environmental and social sustainability has caused an explosive growth of green products. The National Green Pages published by Co-Op America currently lists more than 2,000 green companies. You can find eco-travel agencies, telephone companies that donate profits to environmental groups, entrepreneurs selling organic foods, shade-grown coffee, straw-bale houses, paint thinner made from orange peels, sandals made from recycled auto tires, and a plethora of hemp products, including burgers, ale, clothing, shoes, rugs, and shampoo. Although these eco-entrepreneurs represent a tiny sliver of the $7 trillion per year U.S. economy, they often are pioneers in developing new technologies and offering innovative services. Markets also grow over time: organic food marketing has grown from a few funky local co-ops to a $7 billion market segment. Most supermarket chains now carry some organic food choices. Similarly, natural-care health and beauty products reached $2.8 billion in sales in 1999 out of a $33 billion industry. By supporting these products, you can ensure that they will continue to be available and, perhaps, even help expand their penetration into the market.
Corporations committed to eco-efficiency and clean production include such big names as Monsanto, 3M, DuPont, and Duracell. Applying the famous three Rs—reduce, reuse, recycle—these firms have saved money and gotten welcome publicity. Savings can be substantial. Pollution-prevention programs at 3M, for example, have saved $857 million over the past 25 years. In a major public relations achievement, DuPont has cut its emissions of airborne cancer-causing chemicals almost 75 percent since 1987. Small operations can benefit as well. Stanley Selengut, owner of three eco-tourist resorts in the U.S. Virgin Islands, attributes $5 million worth of business to free press coverage about the resorts’ green building features and sustainable operating practices.
Architects are starting to get on board the green bandwagon, too. Acknowledging that heating, cooling, lighting, and operating buildings is one of our biggest uses of energy and resources, architects such as William McDonough are designing “green office” projects. Among McDonough’s projects are the Environmental Defense Fund headquarters in New York City; the Environmental Studies Center at Oberlin College in Ohio; the European headquarters for Nike in Hilversum, the Netherlands; and the Gap corporate offices in San Bruno, California .Each uses a combination of energy-efficient designs and technologies, including natural lighting and efficient water systems.
The Gap office building, for example, is intended to promote employee well-being and productivity, as well as efficiency. It has high ceilings, abundant skylights, windows that open, a ful lservice fitness center (including pool), and a landscaped atrium for each office bay that brings the outside in. The roof is covered with native grasses. Warm interior tones and natural wood surfaces (all wood used in the building was harvested by certified sustainable methods) give a friendly feeling. Paints, adhesives, and floor coverings are low-toxicity, and the building is one-third more energy-efficient than strict California laws require. The pleasant environment helps improve employee effectiveness and retention. Gap, Inc., estimates that the increased energy and operational efficiency will have a four- to eight-year payback
Environmental protection creates jobs
For years business leaders and politicians have portrayed environmental protection and jobs as mutually exclusive. They claim that pollution control, protection of natural areas and endangered species, and limits on use of nonrenewable resources will strangle the economy and throw people out of work. Ecological economists dispute this claim, however. Their studies show that only 0.1 percent of all large-scale layoffs in the United States in recent years were due to government regulations. Environmental protection, they argue, is not only necessary for a healthy economic system; it actually creates jobs and stimulates business. Green businesses often create far more jobs and stimulate local economies far more than environmentally destructive ones. Wind energy, for example, provides about five times as many jobs per kilowatt-hour of electricity than does coal-fired power. China has emerged as the world leader in sustainable energy. Recognizing the multibillion-dollar economic potential of “green” business, China is investing at least $8 billion per year on research and development, and now it is selling about $12 billion worth of equipment and services per year worldwide. Japan, also, is marketing advanced waste incinerators, pollution-control equipment, alternative energy sources, and water treatment systems. Superefficient “hybrid” gas-electric cars are helping Japanese automakers flourish, while U.S. corporations that once dominated the world slide into bankruptcy. Unfortunately, the United States has been resisting international pollution-control conventions, rather than recognizing the potential for economic growth and environmental protection in the field of “green” business.