Friday, June 11, 2010

Only the Sustainable Survive

As BP’s tragic oil spill ignites worldwide outrage, other corporations seek to secure an environmentally-friendly reputation among the consuming public. CBIA’s 2010 Sustainability Conference, held on Wednesday June 9, 2010, served as a welcome reminder that even in a down economy, sustainable business activity is not as far-fetched as some corporations believe. Michael Ellis, Senior Associate of GreenOrder, presented current sustainability trends among businesses and predictions for the future using results from CBIA’s 2010 Survey on Sustainability and Connecticut Business. Two panel discussions followed—highlighting the value companies place on “taking their sustainability initiatives to the next level.” Recycling paper or eliminating waste within facilities is not enough to compete in our transforming “green marketplace.”

Results from CBIA’s 2010 survey, coupled with speakers representing AT&T, IBM Corporation, and Microsoft, the Connecticut Clean Energy Fund, TelecommuteConnecticut/CTRideshare, and Oakleaf Waste Management demonstrate a strengthened commitment to sustainability principles. The key findings from CBIA’s Sustainability survey report the majority of Connecticut companies have adopted “green” business strategies—mostly in the area of energy efficiency. CBIA first began following green business trends in 2007 when only 47% of Connecticut companies reported going green. The number climbed to 59% in 2008, and jumped to 73% in 2009. This figure increased by only 1% over the last year—possibly implying that corporate sustainability has “reached a saturation point, at least for now.”

As added support to these findings, the representatives of AT&T, IBM, and Microsoft reported their respective companies have shifted away from thinking only in the short term and adopted a long-term analysis of energy costs. Furthermore, each of the three have adopted Smart Grid policies and were happy to report substantial returns on their investments in energy-conserving initiatives.

The environmental community applauds these businesses for their proactive attitudes and sense of corporate responsibility—yet work is still needed. Upfront costs and lack of knowledge are the two primary obstacles companies face in their efforts to “go green.” Many business leaders remain unconvinced that consumers are truly willing to put environmental concerns ahead of their wallets. In addition to these concerns, corporate leaders still have an incentive to think only in the short-term in regards to energy costs. Should the government decide to put a price on carbon, the externality posed by carbon dioxide will be internalized within the company’s operations costs and they will no longer be inclined to ignore the serious energy issue our country faces. Environmentalists must continue their efforts to inform the pubic on the importance of this issue. More importantly, we must persuade our policy-makers to more vigilantly pursue a clear, all-encompassing energy policy that forces corporations to view sustainability not as an unaffordable luxury, but as a sound, if not essential, business practice for a 21st century, global economy.

Nichole Strack
Trinity College, Hartford, CT.