Being Green + Being Profitable: Opportunity Green 2009

November 11, 2009

Having read all of the exciting press coming off last year’s Opportunity Green conference, I was looking forward to attending this year’s event, held in sunny Los Angeles, CA.  Heralded as one of the top green business conferences in the industry, OG09 promised to be a forum to gather with leaders of the business world to discuss not just our shared idealism towards a more sustainable planet but our determination to succeed in a green economy.

My excitement on the front end was met with some disappointment the day of the actual conference and I’m sad to say that for the most part, I was underwhelmed.  The opening keynote included a talk by Chris Jordan, an artist famous for his portraits of waste in mass culture.  While I admire Chris’ work and passion for revealing the consequences of our modern world, I tend to get more annoyed than inspired during those types of lectures.  He showed photographs depicting our daily use of plastic cups and the tragic death of albatross on Midway Island due to significant plastic waste in the Pacific Ocean.  In fact, he played a 6 minute long video showing carcass after carcass of albatross that had mistaken plastic for food and died with massive quantities of it in their bellies.

Sad, right?  Of course.  It’s horrible.   But did I travel across the country to be shown pictures (that I’ve seen many, many times – it’s a popular image for green conferences) accompanied with severely depressing violin music?  Not really.  I’m in this room because I am all too aware this is a problem.  I’m in this room because I am afraid of what the future looks like for my children and their children and I want to solve this problem, or at least try.  I’m too motivated and there’s too little time to sit around and grieve, which is what Chris suggested we need to do for our planet.

We don’t need to grieve.  We absolutely need to acknowledge what we have done to this planet.  But like any problem in life, dwelling on how wrong it all is begins to sound like broken record.  Yes! It’s wrong.  How do we make it right?  Grief will not heal us.  I am sure of this.

At any rate, the conference had its moments of redemption for sure.  My favorite panel was Modern Storytelling with Annie Leonard of Story of Stuff and Jonah Sachs of Free Range Studios.  If you haven’t seen Story of Stuff, you should go watch it right now.  Annie is a brilliant storyteller who spent 2 decades researching the materials economy and uncovering what happens to all of our stuff throughout its lifecycle. Jonah and his team at Free Range helped Annie turn her research into a smart, witty and informative 20 minute documentary with an attempt to illuminate some of the issues within the materials economy including massive waste and overconsumption.

Working in communications, I appreciate Annie’s no BS approach to tackling a problem and presenting information to people who have predisposed conceptions about the world.  As she advises, “talk to people where they’re at – not where you’re at.”  The discussion centered around the concept of authentic communication, opening up dialogues and not trying to control the conversation once it’s out.

She closed the session with this piece – “Change is inevitable, the question is whether it will be by design or by default.”  It is the perfect summary of the choices we have now, the decisions we make towards a more sustainable world and what we need to keep at front of mind when we approach this revolution.

While I met some very interesting people at OG09 and was thrilled to see Annie Leonard speak live, I left with an overall feeling that has accompanied me at the end of many green centric conferences or expos – concerned at our ability talk about the problem in depth but our inability to provide comprehensive, deep solutions.  Right now, green conferences tend to include those of us who are dark green – we believe it, we know we’ve got to change, we’ve dedicated parts of our lives to so.  While seeing and hearing stories about the breadth of the problem can be inspiring, too much of it becomes time consuming and ineffective.  We need an active campaign, not a passive one.  I want to attend a conference that starts that campaign.

Posted by: Ashley / follow me on Twitter

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Beyond Ethos, Why We Really Go Green

July 21, 2009

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


Earth Day Events

April 21, 2009

With Earth Day right around the corner and events happening all week long, I wanted to put together a list of big events in major cities across the country.  While I am strong believer in being Earth-friendly and eco-conscious every day of the year, Earth Day affords us the opportunity to have our message heard loud & clear.  Kicked off by an awesome day of marching on the National Mall in Washington, DC yesterday, Earth Day 2009 is proving to be a great platform.

Here are some events in cities around the US:

New York – Check out the EarthFair happening on April 24 and 25 at Grand Central Terminal for organic foods, eco-products, yoga, kids activities and more.  Visit http://www.earthdayny.org/ for more info on Earth Day events in the Big Apple.

Boston – From events at the children’s museum to a clean-up in Harvard Square, Boston has something for everyone on Earth Day – even a pouring of eco-friendly wine!  Visit http://www.boston.com/lifestyle/green/earthday/ for complete info and times.

Phoenix – With a solar bake-off, alternative fuel demonstrations and an Earth Day festival, residents of the Phoenix metro area can enjoy all kinds of activities at Arizona State University’s Tempe campus.  Sponsored by the Global Institute of Sustainability, the day looks to be jam-packed with sustainable celebrations.  Visit http://sustainability.asu.edu/events/earth_day.php for more info!

There are dozens of smaller events in cities nationwide – for events near you, the Earth Day Network is an excellent resource – www.earthday.net

Humankind has not woven the web of life.  We are but one thread within it.  Whatever we do to the web, we do to ourselves.  All things are bound together.  All things connect.  ~Chief Seattle, 1855