The State of Green Business, 2013
The following is adapted from the forthcoming the “2013 State of Green Business” report, to be published February 5 by GreenBiz Group. The report is the basis for the annual GreenBiz Forum. Use our discount code gbf13bclc to receive 10% off when you register for GreenBiz Forum here: http://www.greenbiz.com/events/greenbiz-forum
Since 2008, GreenBiz Group has published an annual “State of Green Business” report, which takes the pulse of corporate sustainability activities and asks two key question: how well are we doing, and where is this going?
The first part of the question is answered by a set of key indicators designed to measure progress. Things like the amount of energy it takes to generate a dollar of GDP, the growth of cleantech patent filings, the growth in company disclosure of environmental data, and the intensity of greenhouse gases.
We began this because we’ve been covering the sustainable business arena every day since GreenBiz.com went live in 2000. (And personally, a decade before that, as founding editor of The Green Business Letter, in 1991.) After writing thousands of stories about hundreds of companies, we wanted to step back and take stock: Was all this activity actually moving the needle?
The answer we’ve found is: Not so much. It’s not that companies aren’t earnest, or making bold commitments, or continually improving the efficiency of their operations. It’s just that in the scheme of things, this hasn’t changed things at the scale and speed required.
But things are changing. And as we prepare to launch our 2013 report, in February 5, followed two weeks later by our annual GreenBiz Forums, we’re seeing some significant changes.
One reason is that companies are beginning to sense the urgency. It’s no longer just about “greening up” or “doing well by doing good.” It’s no longer just a matter of reducing costs, improving quality, meeting customers’ expectations, engaging employees, and creating innovative new products and services.
Increasingly, sustainability is being linked to reducing risk, plain and simple.
In a world of increasing volatility, where everything from natural resources to supply chains to political realities to the global economy can be turned topsy-turvy in relatively short order, “sustainability” takes on new, poignant meaning. It has to do with aligning economic, environmental and social interests, of course. But increasingly, it is taking on even more strategic importance, linked to reducing supply-chain risk and ensuring business continuity during disruptions, the right to operate in resource-stressed areas, reliable and cost-efficient energy supplies, and brand value and reputation.
In other words, to the things upon which companies sink or swim.
This is the new world of sustainable business. It goes well beyond the nice-to-do issues of “corporate responsibility” and “eco-efficiency.” It views incrementalism as insufficient, ignorance as unacceptable, and unpredictability as the new norm.
We’ve been watching the emergence of some significant trends. For example, last year saw a resurgence of interest in the idea of accounting for “natural capital” — the indispensable stocks of natural resources provided by the planet that are essential for human survival and economic activity. The notion of integrating sustainability reporting with financial reporting — and, in the process, making the two inextricably linked — also got some lift. In both cases, progress is slow and the changes relatively small, but the conversation is changing: These things are now being discussed by some of the world’s largest companies, and not just in passing.
The question, of course, is what positive changes are actually taking place, and at what speed, scale, and scope. Is the growing engagement of companies sufficient to alter the trajectory of negative environmental and social trend lines — issues like climate change, air quality, the health of aquifers, species extinction, the abundance of topsoil and fisheries, human health and well-being, and all of the other things that make up, for lack of a better term, “the sustainability agenda”?
In the 2013 State of Green Business report — a free download on GreenBiz.com starting February 5 — we take stock of the trends and indicators that tell how, and how well, the world of business is addressing these concerns.