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August is New Hampshire Eat Local Month and a great example of the growing push to reorganize our society and economy around environmentally sustainable and socially responsible practices. Eating local foods not only helps combat global warming by reducing the transportation required to get food to our tables, it provides a major boost to the Granite State economy. Increasing the production and consumption of locally grown food and moving away from super-sized supermarkets is an important step in creating a truly sustainable society.
The development of the modern day grocery store did not happen over night; however, more has changed in the way we grow and purchase food during the past 50 years than during any other time in human history. The current model favors rapidly produced items made from ingredients that are increasingly devoid of nutritional value. Food is a multi-billion dollar business in the US and much of what we find in our Hannaford, Shaw’s, and Market Basket stores comes from monstrous manufacturing facilities completely detached from the reality that their products are intended to nourish people.
Instead of providing healthy food choices at honest prices, most of the over 45,000 items found in a typical supermarket reflect the attitude of their makers. Primarily, that food is just another product to sell. Our consumer driven society has let them be successful in marketing this food because we like the promises of fat free ice cream and the sound of exotic spring water. When the marketing efforts are more important than product itself, we have a problem. The recently released movie Food, Inc. likens today’s food industry to the giant cigarette companies that once stood proud and tall as model corporate citizens. Both, it claims, mis-led the public about the effects of their products and both fought vigorously to continue their charade while the health of our country suffered. Phillip- Morris had to change its name, it now goes by Altria, and its strategy, such as focusing on reducing under age smoking, because of the dubious nature of its business. I wonder if Kraft, and its horrible products like lunchables which have 17 grams of fat and 1100 mg of sodium in a single serving, will one day be forced to do the same.
The wonderful truth about local food in New England is that it can supply most of what we want as consumers. Our farmers’ markets abound with fresh vegetables, ripe fruit, and many locally produced jams, breads, meats, and dairy products. The food tastes better because it was picked recently when it was ripe, not weeks beforehand and then shipped to us from 3000 miles away. Producing and consuming foods within a local geographical region is a model that thrived for several thousand years. It is time to focus on local food grown within a few hundred miles of our homes and businesses and restoring our communities to fully functioning organisms.
The transition to a new food economy is both incredibly simple and extraordinarily complex. What could be more natural than buying food from your local farmer, to say nothing of growing some yourself. California and Mexico provide examples of where the process becomes more difficult. The San Joaquin Valley produces more than ten percent of our county’s food. Turning off their pipeline of lettuce, raisins, beef, and asparagus may help the farmers in NH but many of those in CA would have to shift into new industries as their national markets are reduced by a growing demand for regional food.
Which brings me back to August being NH Eat Local Month. Initiatives like this start the discussion. Many of us have been speaking about the benefits of local food for years. The Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) program to which my family and I belong is an example of what happens when local food becomes important to many residents of the same locale. Together with about 30 other members, we pay the farmers at Brookford Farm in Rollingsford, NH for a share of their harvest. In return we recieve twenty pounds of fresh produce every week as well as milk, yogurt, eggs, a chicken, and some beef. What could be better? Fresh food from local people.
As we close in on 2010, I often find myself excited thinking about the changes taking place here in NH. The University Office of Sustainability (USO) at UNH is doing fantastic work with their Food & Society Initative, which promotes local agriculture and the concept of a Sustainable Food Community. The number of farmers’ markets across the state has risen from less than 20 to over 100 in the past decade. This equates to more local food available to more citizens and less manufactured food required by our population. As individuals, families, and businesses become increasingly involved, momentum is building and another piece in the sustainability puzzle is being put into place.
The Boston Consulting Group (BCG) released a fantastic report, Capturing the Green Advantage For Consumer Companies, on January 20, 2009. They conducted a global survey in 2008, with smaller, follow up assessments in October 2008 and January 2009, that clearly show green consumerism remains strong even as the world deals with a continued economic downturn. The authors suggest that increasing sustainability should be an enterprise wide initiative rather than just focused on one product line or single item. They outline four steps that companies should take when preparing to roll out sustainably across their business.
BCG’s Four Ps of Green Advantage are: Planning, Processes, Products, and Promotion. This blog post will focus on Planning.
When I was growing up, my father made me keep a weekly schedule of things I needed to do and important dates I should not forget. I used it for sports, school work, and chores. At the time I thought it was torture to plan out my week and then review it each Sunday night with my dad. Now I thank him for showing me the value of planning ones course and how it greatly increases ones chances for success. The BCG report outlines two planning steps that I would like to discuss further.
Embedding Green Targets and Resources Into Corporate Strategy
The idea of including targets is incredibly important. Without something to strive for, direction is lost and momentum fades. The goals should be SMART, Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic, and Timely. They should be transparent, documented and available to the general public, as well as followed up upon. Nothing is worse than the fanfare of an exciting “green” announcement followed by its slow decline into obscurity. A sustainability report is the ideal mechanism for announcing your targets and publishing your progress toward meeting them.
I recommend creating an environmental mission statement as a way to define your goals and help plan your next steps. When my company wondered what to do next after the low hanging fruit that initially moved us in a sustainable direction was gone, we went back to our guide, our main resource, our friend, and our ally, our environmental mission statement. For more on this wonderful tool, please check out my blog, A Green Road Map for Executives: Begin with an Environmental Mission.
Planning For and Capitalizing On Changes On The Horizon
We all know the saying that change is inevitable. The sustainability movement has been gaining steam for at least the past twenty years. Between 1990 and 2009, the organic food industry saw its sales rise from $1 billion to $30 billion. Green consumer studies like BCG’s show that in almost every sector of the economy, from socially responsible investing and LEED building to green travel and energy generation, consumers are looking for sustainable options.
The trend toward a sustainable future is clear and we are still in the infancy of the move toward a new, clean and green world wide economy. Almost everything we currently consume needs to be produced in a more sustainable manner. The possibilities for change seem limitless. During the Industrial Revolution change seemed to be taking place at a much more rapid pace that just before or after this time period. We now find ourselves at the beginning of what some have said will be the greatest wealth producing era in human history. I have faith that the change will touch all societies, regardless of ethnicity or class, and help the world rise to meet a new era.
These are trying times for the sustainability movement. The economic downturn has forced companies across the globe to slash budgets and let valuable employees go. This is often placing “green” programs on the back burner. Luckily there is a new book, Return on Sustainability (ROS), that provides executives and managers with exactly what they need to do to maintain, grow, and even start, their sustainability initiatives. It provides a logical, step-by-step analysis that allows businesses to asses the cost, marketing potential, impact, and difficulty of each of their “green” programs.
Reading the headlines, or listening to your favorite pod cast, it is no wonder that many companies have lost their focus on sustainability. In most cases, the funds associated with “going green” have been moved to what are deemed “more appropriate” projects. This is what happens when sustainability is not at the core of an organization’s mission. Patagonia,Timberland, and Stonyfield Farm, would never abandon their green efforts in the face of difficult economic times. But I realize that most companies were not built as a way to protect the planet like these three icons of sustainable business, so I will give them all some time to get with the program. Sustainability = Good Business and organizations, from AIG and GM to the local non-profit down the road and the small business on the corner, should implement the ROS framework into their management practices so they can start reaping its rewards.
Kevin Wilhelm, CEO of Sustainable Business Consulting, published the book in February, and built his ROS framework using four pillars: Financial, Brand, Sustainability, and Ease of Implementation. These are important topics and I have found that all of them eventually come up when I speak with people about their organization’s sustainability goals.
One area in which I think the ROS program excels is showing companies that implementing sustainability efforts is not just an altruistic action which they can only afford when times are good. Yes, reducing one’s greenhouse gases and putting one’s environmental house in good order will help the entire planet. But if applied strategically and then marketed appropriately, sustainability efforts can increase brand awareness and harness the power that truly caring for the Earth as we face climate change can provide.
This idea of brand recognition being based on sustainability is vital when eco-consultants like Kevin and I are hearing that companies today need to make a profit, not support green initiatives that have a questionable ROI. The ability of the ROS framework to illuminate the brand value of sustainability efforts, showing them to be critical components of an overall marketing program, is doing the “green” movement a great service. And the fact that ROS is helping compnaies begin understanding and minimizing the role they play in climate change is fantastic.
A recent “green” marketing study has me wondering: assuming that many technology companies are indeed becoming better caretakers of the planet, is it more important for businesses to appear “green” to their consumers or to be leading the way in sustainable practices? I’ll take the thought leaders over the thought manipulators any day.
The recently released Green Factor study surveyed over 3500 IT professionals and found that Dell ranked highest in green technology. Dell has been compiling Corporate Social Responsibility reports since 1998 and should be applauded for the numerous steps they have taken to become more environmentally sustainable, especially for their robust recycling program. What sparked my interest in their new accolade is that Climate Counts, a non-profit that evaluates the efforts companies take to reduce their role in climate change, ranked Dell 10th out of the 12 electronics companies it researched.
Here are some interesting differences in how the Green Factor survey and the Climate Counts Company Scorecard approach their research and in the results they find. According to its web site, the Green Factor “ is a joint initiative between Strategic Oxygen and Cohn & Wolfe to illuminate ‘green’ marketing opportunities and further ‘green’-focused research on a global scale.” So, they want to help organizations cash in on the current “green” wave. I have no problem with companies promoting themselves based on their sustainable actions but I question a report whose main goal is to “illuminate ‘green’ marketing opportunities.” What does this do for the buyers who are about to buy a new piece of hardware? It shows them how successful marketing campaigns have made companies like Dell and Apple into “green” IT heroes. Hopefully these buyers are digging a little deeper before they make their purchases because not all that claims green is gold.
Climate Counts defines itself as “a collaborative effort to bring consumers and companies together in the fight against global climate change.” In pursuit of this end, they have a developed 22 questions worth a total of 100 points that evaluate what organizations are doing in four areas: measuring their footprint, reducing their contribution to global warming, supporting tough climate legislation, and publicly announcing their work in relation to climate change. Certainly a lot to live up to but IBM did not have a hard time topping the elelectronics category with a 77. Cannon was close behind with a 74, and scoring 70, Toshiba came in third. Dell’s score of 47 put it in 10th place, second only to Nokia, at 37, and Apple, 11.
Apple does not need any more attention drawn to their lackluster sustainability efforts, just Google “Apple computers, green,” but they provide such a great example of the difference between what these reports found that I can’t resist talking about them. Participants in the Green Factor placed Apple at number five out of almost 30 companies in terms of their perceived “greenness”. Climate Counts ranked Apple last out of 12 companies, noting that they lacked publicly available information about their efforts to measure their role in climate change.
The drastic difference in rankings is not surprising given the divergent missions of the authors but it highlights the main issue I have with a report like Green Factor. Apple comes out near the top because they have been able to portray themself as hip and green. They are so effective that most consumers believe they are doing all that they can to decrease their carbon footprint, increase manufacturing efficiency, and, in the end, reduce their contribution to global warming. But this is not clearly not the case and reading a report that shows Apple near the top of the green IT ladder is perpetuating the sustainably myth they have built.
I guess the Green Factor report helps shine a light on how to capture “green” marketing opportunities, something I fear is becoming more important than being measured by a third party who can truly illuminate the dark shadows and shining examples of real sustainable actions. I urge individuals and companies alike to seek out facts rather than listen to hype. Learn how an organization measures up to clearly defined standards rather than how effective it is in marketing itself using fuzzy imagery.