“Green:” An Issue with Only “One Side”

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“Green” issues – and, more specifically, the societal discussion around the prospect of climate change – have at times been intensely polarizing.  But the green landscape is fast shifting, and there’s been plenty of evidence recently that green is moving to a different place – a place where increasingly it will be untenable to sustain “two sides” on the issue.

Witness the “green encyclical” issued by Pope Francis in mid-2015, the first in the Catholic Church’s history to focus on the environment, which laid out a moral case for taking on the issue of climate change – raising concern for the environment to the level of an overarching spiritual value.  Even more dramatically, the global effort to address climate change took a major step forward in December 2015 when nearly 200 nations meeting in the UN Climate Change Conference agreed to take sweeping long-term steps to ratchet down global carbon emissions.

It’s clear that a consensus is emerging about the need to meet the realities of a changing climate (even if the “how” remains sharply debated).  That consensus will only help support positive, mitigating action – and raise the stakes in terms of the opportunity for business to get involved.

And yet – what’s striking is that, in many significant ways, business is already leading the way when it comes to mounting a meaningful response to climate change.

Consider the following (as reported recently by New York magazine’s Jonathan Chait):  In 2014, the world’s economy grew without carbon emissions also growing – the first time that has ever been recorded.  The use of coal is down by 21 percent since 2007. The price of solar generated electricity per watt was $101 dollars in 1975; today, it’s 61 cents. There were 10,000 solar panel installations globally in 2009; in 2015, 65,000. There were 200,000 electric cars in the world in 2012; in 2015, 750,000. In the U.S., 125,000 clean energy jobs have been added since 2013.

As it often happens, business and capital are finding their way to the economic opportunity that a social issue – in this case, the green issue – can generate.  But there’s even more that business could be doing.

Business has an opportunity to support the emerging consensus around global environmental protection from the bottom up as well as the top down – and there’s no question that individuals are looking for this kind of support for their own environmental passions.

When we polled Americans nationally on this topic, 85 percent said that leaving their children a cleaner, more sustainable world is one of their greatest responsibilities as a parent.  Eight in 10 Americans said they were looking for more opportunities to grow green, and nearly eight of 10  said that corporations have a responsibility to adopt green behaviors.  The same number said it’s important for them to buy products from an environmentally responsible company.

Make no mistake:  Consumers want to do business with green companies.  For corporate America, this represents the very essence of enlightened self interest.

So what can – and should — businesses do:

  • First off, walk the walk. Be a true green business.  Every company has an opportunity to do it.  And the planet needs it.
  • Communicate your commitment to green behavior to customers.
  • Most importantly, understand what environmental concerns are embedded in the business you do with your customers – and then empower them to use your products and services in truly environmentally responsible ways.

When it comes to green, doing good by the world and doing well as a business couldn’t be more closely aligned.  Every business has its own unique “green opportunity” – it’s time to look for it, understand it, and act on it.

– Jim Marren, President

Photo Credit: Mathias Rodriguez

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