Why are the world’s biggest, toughest, most profit-seeking companies like General Electric, Wal-Mart and others talking about the environment now? Because they have to. The forces coming to bear on companies are real and growing. Almost without exception, industry groups are facing an unavoidable new array of environmentally driven issues. Like any revolution, this new “Green Wave” presents an unprecedented challenge to business as usual.
As the business world wakes up to the fact that many natural resources are finite, a second reality is emerging in parallel: Limits can create opportunities. Companies that manage nature’s bounty and boundaries best will minimize vulnerabilities and move ahead of their competitors.
Top 10 Environmental Issues
Here are the top 10 environmental issues facing humanity:
- Climate Change. This catch-all includes rising sea levels, changes in rainfall patterns, more severe droughts and floods, harsher hurricanes and other windstorms, and new pathways for disease.
- Energy. For big energy users, resource and energy productivity may become a major point of strategic advantage.
- Water. Companies around the world now face real limits on access to water. A rising population and growing economies are putting substantial stress on resources. Pollution is increasingly a concern.
- Biodiversity and Land Use. Biodiversity preserves our food chain and the ecosystems on which all life depends. A key factor in the decline of biodiversity is habitat loss. Many companies face pressure about their contribution to sprawl.
- Chemicals, Toxics, and Heavy Metals. Part of what makes air pollution - and all forms of pollution - more dangerous is the presence of toxic elements. The legal liability surrounding toxics can turn out to be virtually unlimited.
- Air Pollution. Significant air-quality controls on factories, cars and other emissions sources have radically reduced air pollution levels over the past 30 years in the United States, Japan and Europe. But the air is still not clean in many places.
- Waste Management. The EPA estimates that the 1,200 Superfund sites across the country will require about $200 billion to clean up over the next 30 years. Under the liability provisions of the Superfund law, anyone found responsible for the waste at a site can be held liable for the full cost of cleanup, even if the toxics were disposed of legally.
- Ozone Layer Depletion. With a thinned ozone layer, the world becomes a more dangerous place, with reduced agricultural productivity, higher risk of skin cancer and other health problems.
- Oceans and Fisheries. More than 75 percent of the world’s fisheries are over-exploited and beyond sustainability. For those whose livelihoods depend on fishing, recreation and tourism, the effect of declining fisheries may be severe.
- Deforestation. Every company that uses wood, paper or even cardboard packaging has some stake in, and responsibility for, the state of our forests.
Building the Upside
Environmental strategy has been on a long march for the past 40 years, from a tactical focus on compliance, to an additional - but still tactical - emphasis on costs and efficiency, to a more strategic view centered on growth opportunities. More and more companies now see the top-line potential from artfully managing the pressures of the Green Wave.
The Eco-Advantage Mindset
Those who ride the Green Wave - WaveRiders - build a foundation for Eco-Advantage by reframing how everyone in the company looks at environmental issues. For these companies, environmental thinking is not always the final word on strategy, but it is always a consideration.
WaveRiders use an environmental lens to change the way they think and sharpen their business strategies. Environmental thinking becomes intrinsic to how they do business. Deeply embedded, the Eco-Advantage Mindset arises naturally at every opportunity.
The Eco-Advantage Mindset is a powerful motivator and the core of the environmental lens that helps companies step up to challenges and find opportunities for seizing advantage. But it’s just the beginning. Companies need tools to get going. Getting the lay of the land requires thinking and analysis that might not come naturally. Eco-Tracking helps to answer fundamental but sometimes unfamiliar questions:
- What are the company’s big environmental impacts?
- When and where do those impacts arise?
- How do others view the company’s environmental performance?
Pollution Prevention Hierarchy
For most companies, the state of the art in environmental thinking can be summed up with the slogan, “Reduce, Reuse, Recycle.” Most companies are still working on integrating these three Rs into the production process.
The pollution-prevention hierarchy has two further levels. Before reducing, companies should explore ways to redesign what they do and how they do it. And even before that, they should try to reimagine their products or processes. Just as companies have learned it’s generally cheaper to reduce than to reuse, recycle or throw out, now they are discovering that it is often more profitable to redesign and reimagine.
Eco-Advantage has a twin logic. On one hand, the strategic gains are based on hard-edged analysis. The business case for environmental stewardship grows stronger every day.
In parallel, there’s a strong case for corporate environmental care. WaveRiders have made money by refining their business strategies to incorporate environmental factors. But as much as they are driven by profits, they are also aware that their stewardship helps more than the bottom line. When short-term gains don’t justify green initiatives, they are willing to look for long-term value for themselves and their workers, for their communities, and for the planet. The gold they’ve discovered by going green is not only about money. Copyright © 2007 Soundview Executive Book Summaries