In today’s polarized political environment, it should be no surprise that most people tend to have strong feelings about being environmentally sensitive. What might be news is that environmentalism, or being green, has its roots in the commentary of the transcendentalists of the 1830s and 1840s, most notably Henry David Thoreau.
Upon close review, our societal values on the issue of green are much like our political ones; we agree on most things in the middle — it’s with the extremes we have our greatest conflicts.
Few people would argue that ready access to clean water is critical for society. The conflict comes when we start talking about the cost of that clean water, and how it will impact our economic engine.
If we are the competent businesspeople we claim to be, the conflict between conservation and cost should be easily resolvable with a simple strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats (SWOT) analysis. But in business, analysis and planning are time-consuming efforts that aren’t well tolerated in today’s high-speed world.
From politics to the stock market, smart phones to movies, we live in an on-demand culture. Frustrated co-workers walk down the hall to ask, “Why haven’t you responded to my e-mail?” As businesspeople, our greatest loss might be our inability to consider a long-term perspective.
That long-term perspective simply isn’t welcome in most arenas. We used to ask, “What have you done for me lately?” Now we actually demand and expect instant results. Unfortunately this pace has had a profound impact. The world of today is struggling to exist without imploding or going bankrupt.
Looking at the long term
The most common problem of being environmentally conscious is the cost; it’s expensive to be green. That’s obviously a true statement if you look at the short term. However, being green is by far the most profitable strategy for running your business … if you look at the long term.
Imagine how much money you would save if your business produced no waste, or if the waste you did create could be sold to another industry as a valuable byproduct.
By making a small investment at the front end, most companies could increase efficiency and quality, and create new revenue streams by selling whatever waste is left.
Creating Competitive Advantage
Whether you buy into green or not, one thing is clear. When given the choice between a price-competitive green product or service and alternatives that are not environmentally sensitive, people will always choose green.
Whether you believe the planet is in crisis or not, nobody wants to say phooey and be wrong. There’s a cachet to being green and buying green. Being a green company actually creates a competitive advantage that can attract new and untapped markets to your door.
Where do I start?
As part of the MBA degree I recently finished at our local Drexel University , the entire cohort was sent to Philadelphia for a week to participate in a class on sustainability. During the residency, we saw how industries such as housing, agriculture and technology are learning how to be more environmentally sensitive.
One such example was the Drexel Smart House (drexelsmarthouse.com), a student-led, multidisciplinary project with the goal of demonstrating how existing housing can be transformed into self-sustaining environments with cutting-edge design and technology. This late 19th century brick and stone residence is home to 10 students and staff.
Getting started is easy and the environmental and financial rewards are well worth the effort. Here are a few of the ways you can go green at work, from the Sierra Club :
1. Be bright about light. Use Energy Star fixtures and bulbs, install timers and motion sensors to help turn lights off when not needed.
2. Turn computers and their power strips off at night. Buy energy-efficient computers, monitors and printers.
3. Print smarter, buy recycled paper and recycle it.
4. Go paperless when possible and think before you print. Convert company documents and manuals into electronic files.
5. Ramp up your recycling.
6. Close the loop — buy recycled office supplies and furniture.
7. Watch what (and how) you eat. Don’t buy plastic cups, plates or silverware.
8. Rethink your travel. Take the bus or train when possible and work en-route. Rent hybrids when you travel.
9. Reconsider your commute and facilitate greater carpooling for staff.
10. Create a healthy office environment. Ban smoking and use nontoxic cleaning products, put real living plants throughout the office.
The success of a sustainability effort is dependent on your commitment to it and finding ways to make it fun. Create internal contests and promote your efforts to your markets. Challenge other businesses to follow your lead and build a brand that says you care about the environment and your staff.
As long as we weigh our choices by short-term gains, a green, sustainable environment will always be too expensive. I call it unsustainable sustainability.
Businesses cannot afford to ignore the green revolution. Not because it’s profitable, politically correct or to save the planet.
The reason is because, from a long-term perspective, it’s the only thing that makes sense.