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A Green Road Map for Executives: Begin with an Environmental Mission

March 31, 2009 1 comment

The first Green Travel Summit concluded last week in Newport Beach, CA. Their findings were released in list format and outlined the Top Ten Challenges to Greening Corporate Travel. The number one hurtle they identified is the same obstacle that slows down new initiatives across all industries. Corporate travel executives are having a difficult time defining a road map that will enable them to begin the process of making the products and services they provide more environmentally sustainable.

It is said the first step is often the hardest and I applaud the numerous initiatives already taken by those attending the inaugural Green Travel Summit. Now the excitement generated by such major players as American Express, the SkyTeam airline partners, and InterContinental Hotel Group (IHG), has to be put into practice. And not just by those in attendance or even just those in the travel industry. Businesses throughout the world, including those in the most dire of straits such as GM and Chrysler,  should start at the beginning and develop an environmental mission statement to help focus and guide their sustainability efforts.

An environmental mission statement is the sum of three pieces: Why + Goal + Success

  1. Why is this topic important to us? – We believe …
  2. What is our end goal? – We want to …
  3. How is success measured? – We envision a world ….

Taken separately, these three questions are important enough to spark conversation and suggest that change is in the air. When grouped  together, they can light a green torch will illuminate the best path forward. 

Why is this topic important to us? The reasons are almost infinite. There may be an operational problem that needs to be solved. Stakeholders may have become restless about the status quo and are requesting changes. Incentives may have been put in place by the government. Maybe other major players in the industry are already starting to move and you do not want to be left behind.

Whatever the reason, you have to be honest with yourself about why you are ready to begin going “green.” Very often it is a variety of factors. Each and every one of these should be documented and vetted because together they will enable you to figure out what is important to your organization. Understanding the reasons behind the change allows you to move with confidence and passion. 

Why sample – “We believe developing environmentally sustainable business operations is a vital component in decreasing our company’s carbon footprint and reducing its impact on the natural world. “

What is our end goal? I believe that given the choice, most business leaders would elect to have their companies be as clean and efficient as possible. So, the ultimate aim for almost everyone is to be completely “green.” But how does that look in your business? Will travel be replaced by virtual meetings? Will your products be produced with 100% recycled material? Can your people work remotely 85% of the time? 

These may seem like basic questions but they begin to lay out what needs to be done. Even within the same industry, travel for example, a hotel’s path to “green” differs from an airline’s which differs from a travel agency’s which is not the same as a cruise line’s. And the road GM follows will certainly vary from the one Chrysler chooses to drive down. Looking at what your business does to the world and defining all the areas in which you need to work will help bring your road map into focus. Keep in mind, your environmental mission statement is constantly evolving as your company and our world move ahead. Consider it progress when you have to edit it because you have accomplished your goals.

Goal sample – “We are working to assess the full extent to which our products and services touch the natural world. We will finish this process by August 1st, 2009. We will use the findings to develop a strategic green vision to be launched on January 4, 2010.”

Be bold. This is a time for action. 

How is success measured? – Close your eyes. Despite the IBM ads that say otherwise, closing ones eyes is a great way to block out distractions and image the possibilities. Daydreaming is proving to be another effective method for developing creative ideas. So, choose your means and image the end. 

Envision your customers, your employees, your office, and your suppliers. What are they doing in five or ten years? How about in 15 or 20 years? Image beyond today’s technology. How are your goods and services packaged, distributed, sold, used, and recycled? Who purchases them and why? 

How sample – “We are striving to revolutionize our industry and change our world. We envision that our products honor the materials from which they are made and inspire those who use them. They can be recycled by simply leaving them out in the rain. They can last for a lifetime if stored in a safe, cool, dry, and sacred place.” 

As I wrote above, the process of developing an environmental mission is a cyclical one. Your Why, What, and How should be revised annually and referenced often. 

And what if your company already has an environmental mission statement?

Use it.

Hotels Need Local Products

The Million Tons of Trash Challenge developed by the Green Meeting Industry Council (GMIC) is a great example of the many sustainable initiatives being launched across the hospitality industry. The aim is to have participating  hotels track the waste they are able to recycle or compost instead of throwing away. With major players like Oracle and American Express Travel associated with the project, it is sure to help promote better waste management practices across the industry. 

Another way to greatly reduce the environmental impact of meetings and conferences is to source products locally. Hotels can save money, reduce their carbon footprint, and help support their local economy by purchasing as many items as possible from regional vendors. The first LEED Gold certified hotel in the mid-west, the CityFlats Hotel in Holland, MI , had many materials shipped to Holland and assembled locally. 

A favorite example of mine is Green Mill Village (GMV), a conference center scheduled to open in 2010 in Arcola, IL. They are looking to local Amish craftspeople to build all of the furniture throughout their hotel and center. In addition to the initial purchases made for the hotel, GMV will continue to support the regional economy by allowing guests to purchase any item they see in their room, a majority of which will be made in the area. These local products decrease the carbon emissions related to transportation of products from outside the state. There will also be several wind mills on site that, along with the solar panels, will provide the entire village with clean, renewable electricty.  

The final program that I would like to highlight is Farmers, Foragers, and Fishermen, an initiative that just got underway at the Loews Coranado Bay Resort in San Diego. The idea is to highlight one local producer each season and feature them at special dinners. Loews head chef and the purveyor of honor interact with guests during a four course meal, sharing the history and details of their company and explaining why working with local producers is an important step in creating vibrant local economies throughout the country.

So next time you find yourself dining at a hotel, make it a point to select the locally produced fare. It will be fresher than something shipped across the country, it will often be a speciality of the region in which you find yourself, and the increased demand you help create will provide the hotel with an incentive to seek out more local vendors. And as I’ve said, items produced near a hotel decrease the environmental impact of the facility by reducing the transportation needed to link a vendor with clients and it helps to keep local economies strong.

Green IT – Marketing Versus Measuring

March 24, 2009 5 comments

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.

We Should All Pay for Carbon Emissions

March 20, 2009 1 comment

On Monday,  Li Gao of China’s National Development and Reform Committee, told the Pew Center on Climate Change that Western consumers should pay for 15 – 20 percent of the carbon emissions that China spews out as it manufactures goods for sale in the US and Europe. I think this is an entirely reasonable request because all items should include the true cost of their production.

If China wants the West to pay for the emissions of the goods it manufactures for us, then they should simply charge us more for them and invest the increased revenues in sustainable, efficient, and carbon cutting technologies. We should all pay the full price of the goods we buy from any country and including a carbon fee is a natural step. Environmental economists have long said that the true cost of items will never be accurate until we account for every step in the development processes, from which resource extraction, carbon emissions, and end of life disposal have traditionally been missing. 

China has at least a couple of major incentives to use the money they would gather through slightly higher prices to make their manufacturing plants more environmentally sustainable. First, as their facilities become more efficient and less pollutting, the prices of their goods will fall and they will become more competitive in the globalized market place. Of couse, it will really only be a fair and open market if all manufacturers are including carbon costs into their pricing strategy. 

Second, they also have an increasing number of examples to follow as well known organizations across the world discover that being “green” means saving money, increasing customer loyalty, and protecting our world.  Massive firms like IBM, Walmart, Nike, and Unilever are showing how sustainable business is providing a new path to wealth and prosperity. Their triple bottom line approach creates money but also protects the planet and its people. 

As China hurtles forward into unbridled capitalism, it is following the example the US and Europe set a century ago, a model predicated on the idea that carbon is not a cost of production. China is saying the West advanced by polluting and it is their right to do the same. And that if we want them to stop, we should pay to clean up the mess they are making because it is really our mess. This is all true. We have outsourced much of our manufacturing to places like China where labor is less costly and environmental laws are less stringent. These goods are being made for us and we should pay the true costs associated with their production. 

It is estimated that one third of China’s carbon emissions are directly related to products destined for outside of their country. So, even if the West begins to pay for 33% of China’s carbon, the rapidly growing nation will still have to shoulder the majority of the burden itself. But that is another issue to be discussed in another blog.