“Our customers are the lifeblood of our business, so we want to help them advance their own sustainability initiatives,” said Alexander Toeldte, President and Chief Executive Officer of Boise, Inc. during a summit Boise Inc. hosted called “Choices – Paths to Sustainability.” The summit was held in a ballroom at a green-designated hotel attended by roughly 200 people representing the EPA, Environmental Defense Fund, an international chain-store retailer, companies within Corporate America and leading private sector institutions. It was the Green Economic Revolution in action.
As Toeldte’s quote suggests, the focus was on finding solutions. With refreshing candor, Boise Inc.’s Kate McGlynn presented the company’s first carbon footprint analysis for their Jackson, Alabama paper plant. Rather than presenting their findings as “the answer,” the presentation focused on insights. In Boise Inc.’s analysis the paper made from virgin wood, when measured at the paper-plant level, actually has a lower carbon footprint than the recycled paper produced at the same plant. The reason is that the virgin wood paper is produced using the wood’s own organic fuel supply like its bark while the production of recycled paper consumes utility supplied electricity produced from fossil fuels. A representative from the Environmental Defense Fund supplemented this analysis with comments from the audience referencing research documenting the emissions reductions achieved by diverting paper from landfills to reuse. And included in this dialogue were general observations that the paper industry’s recycling system in the U.S. stands in contrast to the electronic industry’s growing global e-waste problem. More than the technical awareness raised, this dialogue generated trust, candor and alignment around the potential for a collaborative path where sustainability’s adoption can produce positive results for both the environment and business.
Two of my favorite presentations were by paper consumers. One was by Ruth Daoust, manager of the Michigan State University Surplus Store and Recycling Center. Michigan State, like most of our country’s major universities, has inserted sustainability performance into their operational measurements. A function within Ruth’s operation is a system that re-captures used white paper for shipping to Boise Inc. that is then recycled by Boise into new paper and purchased by Michigan State. Very cool! But as cool as this closed-loop of recycling is, the inspiration within this case study comes from Ruth’s ability to motivate changes in human behavior. While paper recycling is the result, Ruth’s outreach to the campus community is producing awareness among students and faculty about the value generated from adopting sustainability into their lives. One telling example is a student-led banning of Styrofoam cups from their dining facility. This business case study highlights the emergence that the Green Economic Revolution is now shifting market share between companies like Boise that are aligning with a key customer like Michigan State to create a sustainable system producing commercial success for both and companies like the Styrofoam manufacture that is losing market share because they do not have a business/environmental model aligning value with values.
Marialyce Pedersen of The Walt Disney Company presented a similarly inspiring case example. With composting, the paper industry is a working cradle-to-cradle system. Using examples from Disney’s efforts at reducing emissions and waste streams, she provided compelling evidence on the business/environmental opportunities that can be achieved from reducing costs by reducing emissions. But what left the most lasting impression was the outreach Disney is generating on sustainability. She ended her presentation with videos featuring the Jonas Brothers and Hannah Montana promoting Friends for Change, a $1 million contest for groups that promote “…environmental awareness and spread the green word.”
The Boise Inc. Sustainability Summit was a living microcosm on the interaction between consumers and businesses that is driving a Green Economic Revolution. Alexander Toeldte is a prime example of the emerging “Sustainable CEO” that is incorporating environmental accountability into the operational performance measurements of their companies. And now a new phase in the maturation of the Green Economic Revolution is emerging as Sustainable CEOs of companies like Boise, Inc., Walmart and P&G seek to grow “green” revenues selling sustainable goods and services. Disney’s sponsored outreach by two of their young mega-stars is eye-opening evidence of the marketing path available to businesses seeking to capture market share in the Millennial generation market segments. The summit also demonstrated how sustainability is growing at the local level. Michigan State is just one example among thousands of local communities and institutions pioneering solutions that will soon become part of our national adoption of sustainability best practices.
Driven by Sustainable CEOs, our youth (including the Millennial generation) and local activism, I project the Green Economic Revolution will achieve $10 trillion in annual global revenues by 2017 as sustainable goods and services achieve economies of scale pricing parity with less sustainable goods and services. The business opportunity to grow revenues is now available to those companies that successfully position their product offerings to offer both value and values. At this moment where consumers are increasingly distrustful of brand advertising and are hesitant to buy due to the weak economy, products like certified coffees, organic cotton clothing and green cleaning products are achieving double digit annual revenue growth rates. Sustainability is no longer just a choice regarding our environmental responsibility. It is now a business choice that offers a path for growing revenues, increasing brand equity and winning new market share.