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From the Desk of the Director

Go Green or Bank Green

by Kim Patton

October 26, 2010


As a consumer, I’m torn between choosing products that are “green” but cost more, or choosing a “non-green” product to save money. It’s a battle my conscious has each time I go shopping. Do I choose to save the planet or do I choose to save for my kids’ college education? In talking with other consumers, they face this same struggle, especially in today’s economy. So there is the dilemma: go green or bank green.

Companies struggle with this problem on a daily basis. They may have the best intentions and want to be sustainable, but they also have to worry about the bottom line. Many companies have the desire to go down the eco-conscious path, but that doesn’t mean there is an immediate easy solution to reducing a company’s environmental footprint.

Forrester Research, a consulting company specializing in green technology, recently conducted a survey of corporate-technology leaders and found that 85 percent of those responding to the survey considered environmental concerns “very important” or “important” in planning their company’s technology operations. Going green involves more than just technology initiatives. Many companies can reduce the use of paper, travel and energy consumption; however, more importantly, they need to address the corporate culture.

The idea of sustainability might now be resonating with CEOs, but it’s hardly effective without enterprisewide support. The Forrester study indicates that for the past decade, ownership of green projects seemed to reside with corporate technology departments.

That’s begun to change, though, as companies start to see green projects falling under social responsibility. Under this principle, green initiatives now are likely to be guided by management and the business side. But there’s another key reason CEOs are taking notice: the other kind of green. They are finding that using green initiatives helps reduce costs.

Although it might seem counterintuitive, Doug Washburn of Forrester Research says that the recession may not have slowed the pace of sustainability initiatives. Quite the contrary: “Overall, we don’t see the recession cutting into spending and green [technology] plans,” he says. “The recession has been an excuse to ramp up to reduce operating costs, reduce energy costs, and reduce hardware and capital costs.” The larger the organization, he adds, the greater the possibility for savings. (CRM.com)

For example, some customer service centers are using work-at-home-agents (WAHAs), also known as homeshoring. Utilizing a home-based customer service department allows both the company and the employee to help the environment. Employees use fewer natural resources because they don’t commute to work, and companies save on energy and resource use because they don’t have to build offices or maintain large call centers. Also, many documents such as training materials, policy manuals and other company documents are stored online versus printed out, saving even more finite resources. (Corp.com)

Companies know that consumers want eco-friendly products and services, so they jump on the “Go Green or Bust” bandwagon, but are they being truthful about really being green? Most company websites have information on their commitment to sustainability; however, does their commitment to use recycled plastics in their packaging outweigh the high levels of emissions their factories put out on a daily basis?

Some companies even “greenwash” their sustainability information. Greenwashing is the act of misleading consumers regarding the environmental practices of a company or the environmental benefits of a product or service. Consumers need to be savvier and research a company to make sure that is it not committing one or more of The Seven Sins: Sin of Hidden Trade-off, Sin of No Proof, Sin of Vagueness, Sin of Worshipping False Labels, Sin of Irrelevance, Sin of Lesser of Two Evils and Sin of Fibbing. (Sins of Greenwashing.org)

Three examples of companies who are making sustainability part of their everyday practice are Wal-Mart, Procter & Gamble and Kaiser Permanente. All three of these companies not only are practicing sustainability, but are now requiring their vendors to do the same in order to continue conducting business with them.

In the November issue of Fast Company, both P & G and Kaiser Permanente indicated they have developed scorecards for each of their vendors by asking such questions as the level of lead, mercury and lead in medical equipment sold to the company, or how many gigajoules of energy and fuel are used per unit of output. These scorecards are a work in progress, but they have begun to establish a level of expectation for the vendors.

So it seems that much of going green for companies comes down to a balance of awareness versus action. A cost-benefit analysis will always play a big part in a company’s decision to be sustainable, but improving the bottom line does not diminish the actions. Therefore, companies can both go green and bank green which is a benefit for all. And yes, I choose the “green” products each time.