Mixed Green Business Results

GreenBiz Group’s fifth annual 2012 State of Green Business report offers a somewhat mixed view of the current green and sustainable business landscape.

“Things aren’t going as well as we’d hoped,” says Joel Makower, principal author of the 84-page report. “For the first time since we began doing our assessment, in 2008, several of the indicators have taken a downward turn.”

Each year GreenBiz examines sustainable business by tracking 20 indicators of progress that measure such things as carbon emissions, e-waste recycling, green office space, vehicle fleet emissions, toxic emissions, energy efficiency, employee commuting, corporate reporting, and a dozen other metrics.

The report indicates a “significant decline” in progress from several of those indicators, specifically cleantech investment, energy efficiency, green office space, packaging intensity, toxic emissions, and toxins in manufacturing.

Ouch. Those items are fairly important reversals of fortune; the trend lines on them either leveled off or declined in 2011.

Green power use was the only indicator that showed marked improvement, and that is very encouraging indeed.

Is there a simple explanation for these developments? Probably the best single one is that the sour economy of the past few years is finally catching up with sustainable business initiatives.

As Makower puts it, “Sustainable business is suffering a recessionary hangover.”

Much of the solid progress observed in the previous two GreenBiz reports for 2010 and 2011 “were lagging indicators based on work done with pre-recessionary budgets. As the economic realities have set in, environmental progress has stagnated, or worse.”

But all is not gloomy; sustainable business is not in the dumps, according to the report. Somewhat surprisingly, “environmental sustainability efforts continue to grow, relatively unabated, inside mainstream companies.” Companies continue to make, meet, “and even exceed” their goals on materials and resource use, emissions from operations and their suppliers, product ingredients and office and factory efficiency.

In addition, corporate CFOs increasingly are starting to “get” sustainability and the convergence between sustainability and financial issues. The report notes that the Big Four accounting firms—Ernst & Young, PricewaterhouseCoopers, KPMG and Deloitte—are taking notice. “They see new opportunities in helping CFOs bring the same level of diligence to sustainability reporting that they bring to financial reporting.”

So yes, there is much good work being accomplished on the sustainability front, but is it good enough? Maybe not. Are all those lagging indicators a one-shot deal, a byproduct of a stubbornly lackluster economy? Maybe so. One thing is sure; lots of work and economic recovery is needed.

[Image Credit: State of Green Business 2012 cover via GreenBiz.com]

writer, editor, reader and general good (ok mostly good, well sometimes good) guy trying to get by

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