It seems like every month a major company announces another environmental initiative. Gone are the days when “green” was equated to liberal tree-hugging – green business planning is now considered strategic. The biggest names in business are announcing green campaigns to establish themselves as leaders in their industries. This is forcing other companies to follow suit or lose ground.
General Electric has gained much attention and accolades for their Ecoimagination campaign, which frames their belief that environmental and economic performance can work together and lead company growth. But Ken Cornelius, CEO of GE competitor Siemens, has said that their green strategy was decades ahead. “It's been part of our DNA for a long time,” said Cornelius, referring to the European mindset of Siemens. Energy conservation “has been part of our thinking,” he said. “We keep the windows open and don't turn the lights on.” Energy efficiency and lower greenhouse gas emissions will help Siemens sell products like wind turbines and florescent light bulbs.
Many business analysts are intrigued with this competition between companies trying to “out-green” each other. In his The New York Times Magazine article “The Power of Green,” best-selling author Thomas L. Friedman details how Wal-Mart began shifting its corporate culture to make environmental performance a key strategy. CEO Lee Scott realized the opportunity when he began a program to reduce the amount of the retail giant’s packaging by 5% by 2013. The program began with voluntary teams. When they started to generate significant cost savings, Wal-Mart decided to set up the dominoes, and their suppliers lined up. Scott is aware of Wal-Mart’s global clout, saying: “If we place one order, we can create a market.”
America, however, is not leading the global market in green business. European countries have had more regulation – and more leadership – with sustainability in business. While the Bush administration may not have imposed restrictive legislation on businesses in order to protect them, at the same time it may have restricted them from opportunities in the global market. Friedman believes American businesses need environmental leadership to re-establish themselves in the global economy. According to Friedman, “a new green ideology, properly defined, has the power to mobilize liberals and conservatives, evangelicals and atheists, big business and environmentalists around an agenda that can both pull us together and propel us forward.”
In their book Green to Gold, Andrew Winston and Daniel C. Esty identify 100 companies they call WaveRiders – Companies that are riding the “green wave,” acting as “environmental leaders that see their businesses through an environmental lens, finding opportunities to cut costs, reduce risk, drive revenues and enhance intangible value.”
There are countless examples of evidence to show that what is good for the environment can be good for business. But real change can come from companies that have a mindset of what is good for business must be good for the environment.
The game has changed for Fortune 500 companies, and they must push the domino or risk getting knocked down. Look within your own industry to see where green thinking can provide business growth.