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Are You Smarter Than a Chicken? And Other Green Business Wisdom From Gil Friend

Scott Cooney | Wednesday September 2nd, 2009 | 1 Comment

GFriend2_000The Truth About Green Business, a new book by Gil Friend, founder and CEO of Natural Logic hit bookstores this month just as the nation grapples with a down economy and the prospect of cost cuts that are threatening many green initiatives at the nation’s largest companies.  The timing couldn’t be better.  In the book, Friend systematically dispels the myth that green costs more.

Friend spoke last week at the Commonwealth Club in San Francisco to promote the book.  Friend has a fascinating history, including working with Coca-Cola, Hewlett Packard, Levi-Strauss, Williams-Sonoma and others on their sustainability initiatives.  He spent some time with Buckminster Fuller’s organization as a youth, coming up with creative ways to solve some of society’s most challenging problems.  That exercise taught him that reverse engineering is often easier than traditional approaches when it comes to large social change.  “Sort of makes the impossibilities disappear,” says Friend.

Reverse engineering, of course, is not an option for nature.  Nature, however, has conducted 4 billion years of trial and error to get its processes right and therefore offers us many lessons in terms of running a sustainable business.  For example, while some industries resist the transition to zero waste, Friend asks, “Where is the waste on a chicken?”  The eggshells are food for other species.  Even the poop is food for other species.  So why reinvent the wheel when the R&D has already been done for us?

Indeed, zero waste and other sustainability initiatives often come with gargantuan cost savings for many companies.  So why aren’t the savings of green initiatives more commonly embraced by corporations?  One problem, Friend suggested, is the ubiquitous assumption among consumers, businesses, etc., that it is going to cost more to go green.  It clearly costs more to waste than to not waste, to use electricity than to not, to have excess packaging than not, to have water intensive landscaping than not, to have inefficient buildings than efficient ones….the list goes on and on.  But yet the belief remains common.  It is up to each of us, who are becoming more enlightened to the fact, to debunk this myth at every opportunity.  Friend’s book is full of useful ways to do so.

Scott Cooney is the author of Build a Green Small Business:  Profitable Ways to Become an Ecopreneur (McGraw-Hill)

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  • Ashwin Seshagiri

    If you work in the green world in some capacity, especially in San Francisco, it’s practically impossible not to cross paths with Gil Friend at some point. I was recently at an unconference put on by the EDF and Ashoka that particularly stood out to me. Talking about the “real” costs of the conventional way of doing things, and its green counterpart, Friend had an incredible way of distilling why triple bottom line thinking was not only so important, but so fundamental. In a time when the term “green” is neologism that is increasingly becoming devoid of meaning (I’m particularly thinking of the heaps of greenwashing efforts out there and the ubiquity of inaccessible CSR reports), it seems like the language with which Friend speaks is something that more of us need to be paying attention to.