Chances are that you’ve used a CRM (customer relationship management) tool for some job function at one time or another. Taming the wild beast of a CRM often became the bane of my past jobs—and to its credit, salesforce.com really leveled the CRM playing field. salesforce.com’s product line, working from the cloud, not only made my pesky paper-pushing, number crunching data entry tasks more palatable, it also made them easier by being able to do it from any computer browser, instead of having to deal with a clunky software hulking on my desktop. Now salesforce.com is part of a revolution that could make companies’ move to sustainability far more seamless through its hosting of GreenExchange (GX).
GX is a web-based marketplace designed for companies that wish to collaborate and share intellectual property (IP), with the hope that these firms can share new sustainability business models and technologies. Companies among the 10 that announced this venture with salesforce.com include Best Buy, Yahoo!, Nike, and Mountain Equipment Co-op. Companies participating in GX can choose the terms under which they share their ideas, such as a simple fee structure, attribution recognition, or even non-competitive use. By making their IP available and usable, GX’s founding members hope that they companies will partner together in accelerating the development of sustainable products and processes.
One example that demonstrates how different industries could benefit from GX is Nike’s Environmentally Preferred Rubber. This rubber uses 96% fewer toxins than the formula the footwear company had been using. Nike could hypothetically allow licensing this rubber for other company’s footwear, for Mountain Equipment Co-op’s bicycle inner tubes, or perhaps in the future, for automobile manufacturers. Best Buy could share its e-waste process with other retail chains. Green data centers at Yahoo! could become an industry standard for technology companies.
So the question arises: why would any company just give their IP, i.e., patents away? Answer: they aren’t. GX allows for non-commercial research at universities, where much American innovation occurs. By working collaborating with other firms, a company like Nike can either save money by sharing resources with others, or limit certain patents to particular industries. In the end, companies will improve their IP by sharing and improving them, not just hoarding them.
Should GX become successful, look for this platform to offer another method for consumers to gauge whether a company is truly “sustainable” and “socially responsible.” It’s one thing for a company to say that it’s “green,” uses LED lights, and will use all recycled products by 2018. Disclosing what patents and technologies it’s sharing for the greater good, however, will give concrete examples that will show action . . . not just a snazzy web page with slick pictures of trees. Let’s hope GX catches, on giving tangible results; I know I get weary of all the buzzwords that many companies just slather across their sustainability reports.