Beyond Ethos, Why We Really Go Green

On a recent assignment in my Principles of Sustainable Management course, we were asked to analyze a case study in corporate sustainability that studied a renowned athletic equipment manufacturer and their efforts to green their business practice.  Our job was to argue whether or not we thought the case for sustainability in business could be made purely on profit or whether some form of altruism had to play a role in the model.

I struggled at first with this answer.  The optimist in me wants to believe that this revolution taking place in corporate America towards a new sense of social responsibility is primarily based on the moral implications of not doing so.  But triple bottom line or not, profit is always going to be a factor.  It will be nearly impossible to convince the majority of companies to enact sustainable business practices if it isn’t cost effective to do so.  Corporations aren’t people – they don’t act in charitable ways naturally and they don’t feel empathy.  It is the job of the people who work for them to do those things – but a for-profit company naturally tends towards strategies that do just that – increase profit.

The good news is, sustainability has proven to be profitable.  In fact, companies like Stoneyfield Farms  (CEO Gary Hirshberg should be considered a founding father of proving the profitability of going green) and Nike are showing in real, measurable ways, how revising manufacturing and distributing practices to waste less, be more efficient and act more humanely on a local and global scale can bring in the dough.

And it makes complete sense – doesn’t it?  Consider this: natural resources such as water, fuel and energy, forests and farms are being severly compromised by our current way of doing business.  If your business relies heavily on oil, for example, as its prime source of energy and oil consumption continues to rapidly deplete the limited, nonrenewable supply on Earth – what will happen?  Demand will rise, supply will fall and prices will skyrocket.  Now you are paying double, triple what you were paying a decade ago.  

Now consider the alternative.  

Efficiency gains at the Stoneyfield Farm facility and CO2 reductions have come from many initiatives including designing their processes to incorporate heat recovery, installing energy efficient motors and lighting, implementing energy efficient building practices, refrigeration system changes and fuel switching.

Through improved efficiency, Stonyfield Farm has saved over $1.7MM and 46 million kWh which is enough energy to power 4,500 homes for a year, and prevented over 14,000 tons of CO2 from entering the atmosphere.

I never knew it before, but  I have a business brain.  The more I learn, the more I realize it.  So it’s easy for me to recognize sustainability not simply as an ideal, an unattainable goal that only those with a penchant for ethical and moral righteousness can achieve.  Sustainability is, among other things, what will propel us into a new era of profits.  Only this time around, we won’t be destroying the world around us.

Posted by: Ashley / follow me on Twitter

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