Joel Makower, co-founder and executive editor of Greener World Media, kicked off today’s State of Green Business Forum which coincided with a release of GreenBiz.com’s second annual State of Green Business report. Nearly 500 attendees filled the PG&E Auditorium in San Francisco, representing 20 states, Fortune 500 companies, NGO’s, government entities, consulting firms, the media and more. I was lucky enough to attend and cover the piece for the GreenBiz.com blog where you can see my in-depth coverage of the event. This piece contains excerpts from that coverage.
The State of Green Business report cites 10 trends in green business, and ranks 20 indicators ranked on a swim (green), tread (yellow), or sink (red) basis. Five indicators are “swimming” (cleantech investments, clean-energy patents, energy efficiency, paper use and recycling, and water intensity); twelve are “treading water”, neither here nor there (including green jobs, green office space, carbon transparency, corporate reporting and toxic emissions), and three are reported as “sinking” (carbon intensity, employee telecommuting, and e-waste). The objective results indicate a mixed bag – we clearly have lots of work to do.
But the five panels that followed told a more optimistic story. Not surprisingly, corporate leaders touted their employer’s efforts and avoided negative impacts, while non-profit and policy leaders gave more wary status reports. But all were hopeful that we can overcome the obstacles before us.
In a panel on green innovation, leaders from IBM’s Big Green Innovations and Autodesk announced boldly that green strategies involved simply following the money, while Valerie Casey, Global Practices Head at IDEO noted cautiously that some firms can’t afford to wait the necessary time to see a payback on sustainability investments. Panelists agreed that tasks related to greening signal greatest firm commitment when held not in the CSR department, but rather in the meat of the day to day business operations.
The second panel addressed water issues and how corporations are addressing the impending crisis. Environmental leaders from Frito-Lay and Levi Strauss went to great lengths to describe impressive firm efforts to improve and reduce water use. But Jason Morrison, Director of Economic Globalization and the Environment Program at the Pacific Institute drew applause with a more realistic statement: “You can’t think about just the cost for business of water, you need to think more holistically about the implications.” We’ll need to align our use of water with the reality of the situation, bringing our lifestyles into balance with the availability of water.
The third panel discussion of the day tackled the renewed interest in energy efficiency amongst manufacturers, building owners and managers. The panelists took an honest look at an area that GreenBiz diagnosed as merely treading water. Smart technology is here but practices are lagging. What’s keeping us from success here? What needs to happen to overcome these hurdles? Panelists cited fear, uncertain payback periods, and shaky financials as holding us back and advocated ambitious goal setting as a potential antidote – stating a limit on carbon emissions or aiming for zero-energy buildings. And the federal stimulus is a definite bright spot for energy efficiency.
The fourth panel looked at the role of companies and local governments in promoting green jobs. What is a green job? How can we promote green jobs and who should we look to for leadership? Ian Kim, Director of the Green-Collar Jobs Campaign at the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights quoted Van Jones, founder of the Ella Baker Center and outspoken advocate for green jobs, “When it comes to green job rhetoric there is a bubble, and when it comes to implementation, there is a hole.” While they did not agree on a precise definition, panelists suggested a green job is good for the environment, business, and the employee. All panelists were hopeful for the future of the green job economy.
The fifth and final panel of today’s State of Green Business Forum featured three of the minds behind the successful Cleantech and Green Business for Obama (CT4-O) project on the new administration and its trajectory. Despite provocative audience questions, panelists seemed unwaveringly confident in Obama’s environmental policy goals and faith in science. Holly Kaufman, CEO of Environment & Enterprise Strategies cited Nancy Pelosi, who instructed democrats gathered at a post-election celebration to “get used to success.” More importantly, Kaufman said “We all have to get used to working in a different environment…Pick your battles – don’t knit pick…We won’t get everything we want.” And at the end of the day, what keeps Jeff Anderson, National Co-chair and Campaign Manger of Cleantech and Green Business for Obama up at night is not fear of the administration dropping the ball, but fear that we will drop the ball – “We need to stand on each other’s shoulders to get through this.”