Green business: chief sustainability officers, product innovation and employee education

An interesting article was posted on CNBC.com last week by Aman Singh, who is an editor with Vault and works with Fortune 500 companies on reporting their diversity recruitment strategies and initiatives.  The piece started:

Let’s face it. Even though nothing came out of Copenhagen, awareness of easily avoidable phrases like “climate change,” “green careers,” even “green jobs” became hugely Googled, SEO-ed, categorized and tweeted. So, with this newfound green knowledge, how will we as employees, consumers and maybe more importantly, as decision-makers, inculcate sustainability in the workplace and bring it to the attention of the executive suite?

Singh proceeds to discuss how many large companies have added sustainability chiefs without “demanding that they embed sustainability in the company’s long term strategy and all operations. Until regulation and stakeholders support us, achieving corporate social responsibility remains an elusive goal, titles notwithstanding.”

Singh has a good point, but seems a bit shortsighted when he makes this blanket assertion.  More and more companies are coming to understand that sustainability is good for their reputation and employee morale, but also for their bottom line. Research has shown that people want to buy from companies that are seen as socially responsible.  I agree that regulation is important, but customers often drive innovation, and therefore new product development that considers the environment, like laundry detergent that uses 80% less water, will only continue to speed up.

In my experience working with clients to address sustainability in their business operations and sales and marketing efforts, I have seen companies discuss the environment without the ability and knowledge to execute – exactly the problem Singh highlights.  However, I have also seen companies who not only have sustainability offices discussing strategy but also working on the execution internally to make it a reality.  In these organizations, senior management includes their colleagues in the sustainability efforts and brainstorming, as they recognize that the best ideas often come from the bottom up, rather than from the top down.  In addition, employee education is key – sustainability must be part of the company culture.  If so, it is much easier to implement (and less likely to be cut).

Here’s a link to the full article on CNBC.

Looking in the mirror on America Recycles Day

Image courtesy of the National Recycling Coalition

America Recycles Day (ARD) was held this past weekend (Sunday, November 15).  Put on by the National Recycling Coalition, a non-profit advocacy group focused on waste reduction, reuse and recycling, ARD is the only nationally recognized day dedicated to encouraging Americans to recycle and to buy recycled products.

These types of events are helpful reminders, but they come and go.  What’s more important is that we demonstrate an ongoing commitment to the environment in our personal and professional lives.

Over the past several years, our firm has worked hard to do business in a responsible manner.  I spoke with our Facilities Director, Barry Lyons, to get the latest update on what we do internally to leave less of a footprint.  I’m proud to include a list of the following: what we recycle, what we allow and encourage our employees to bring in from home to be recycled, as well as products we use that are made from recycled or environmentally-friendly materials.

What we recycle

  • Paper
  • Corrugated cartons
  • Batteries
  • CFLs
  • Fluorescent tube bulbs
  • Bottles & cans
  • Wood pallets
  • Metal (old shelving, files, cabinets)
  • IT: Monitors, computers
  • Printing materials: Plates, film, inks, fixer, developer
  • Paint

What employees can bring in

  • Batteries
  • CFLs
  • Fluorescent tube bulbs
  • Paint

What we use made from recycled materials:

  • Paper goods: Printing paper, copy paper, corrugated cartons, calculator and adding machine tape, our corporate stationery system, paper towels, toilet paper
  • Other: Office supplies where we have an option (i.e. paper clips), soap for our pressman (made from recycled walnut shells)

Other products we use that are environmentally friendly
Soy inks, solvents for printing, facility and office cleaning products, lawn care products, snow and ice products for our parking lot, de-icer for our stairs and entrance, new computers, new monitors, wind power for our electrical needs, exterior lighting on timers, electrical audit  of our facilities, etc.

By no means is our job complete.  There are a number of other ways that organizations can operate in a more sustainable manner (water management, hybrid vehicle fleets, green building, etc), but this is a good place to start.  If you are interested in learning the specifics of what we have done here at GMG, please let me know and Barry and I can help.

If you are in a position to influence your organization’s facilities and sustainability decisions, I encourage you to do so.  Making green choices can have a tremendous impact on the environment, on your relationships with your colleagues, as well as on your corporate image.

Follow up to key idea from the Environmental Defense Unconference: Corporate Collaboration on Sustainability

collaborationOn this blog, my summer colleague, Lenora Deslandes, discussed her observations on the Environmental Defense Unconference in Boston.  One of the main ideas she highlighted was the need for companies to share best practices in sustainability in order to advance our common good.

Therefore, I was excited to read in the New York Times this month about some recent collaborative efforts among large companies to share environmentally friendly innovations.  The article, titled “Everybody In the Pool Of Green Innovation,” spotlighted two major initiatives:

  1. Eco-Patent Commons: According to the article’s author, Mary Tripsas, the Eco-Patent Commons was founded in 2008 and is a place where “Companies pledge environmental patents to the commons, and anyone can use them – free.”
  2. GreenXchange: A joint initiative between the Creative Commons, Best Buy and Nike to be launched next year that will allow companies to contribute patents and be able to charge licensing fees for interested parties.

It remains to be seen how successful either of these initiatives will be (there are only 100 patents currently shared on the Eco-Patent Commons, and the GreenXchange has yet to go live), but these developments are encouraging.  As I have seen in my business and those of our clients, learning about the tactics and strategies other organizations are employing to operate in a sustainable way has the potential to add tremendous value and contribute to the level of dialogue and ideas exchanged both in individual firms as well as in our society as a whole.

Excellent list of books on Greentech, Energy, and Sustainability – from the Harvard Business School Greentech and Sustainability Club

GreenBookA friend of mine from Harvard Business School passed along the following list of books to aid one’s understanding of greentech, energy, and sustainability.  This list was shared with members of the Harvard Business School Greentech and Sustainability Club earlier this week, and I’m pleased to share it with readers of Sustainable Ink:

General

Energy

Food

Highlighting some best practice leaders in sustainable political communication

The recent passage of the American Clean Energy and Security Act, better known as Waxman-Markey (named for its sponsors Rep. Henry Waxman (D-CA) and Rep. Ed Markey (D-MA)), marks the beginning of a long-term effort to rein in greenhouse gas emissions in the United States.

At the same time, to ensure a bright clean energy future for this country and to accelerate America’s transition to a clean energy economy, we want to acknowledge and applaud the actions of the following list of Senators, Members of Congress, a Governor, and political committees in different parts of the country, both national and local, who, working with Grossman Marketing Group, have adopted solid sustainable practices in terms of producing their direct mail and printed materials using 100% certified wind power, vegetable-based inks and recycled paper, and by adopting practices that are very much in keeping with the values and priorities of this landmark piece of legislation:

Only by reducing carbon emissions and greenhouse gases are we ever going to address the threat of global warming and improve the quality of life on our planet.  These politicians are not only talking about it, but they are also “walking the walk” and living this vision by the actions which they have taken in their political mail, fundraising mail, etc.

Unique Environmental Approach to Al Gore Mailing

Front and back of Al Gore mailing.

Front and back of Al Gore mailing.

My firm recently produced envelopes for a mailing on behalf of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee for Nexus Direct, a full-service direct marketing agency located in Virginia Beach, VA.

This fundraising appeal, comprised of 1.9 million pieces, was signed by former Vice President Al Gore. In keeping with his unwavering commitment to fighting global warming, the envelopes that were used were produced using environmentally-sound practices, most notably recycled paper, containing 30% post-consumer waste, and 100% certified wind power.

Eco-statistics for Al Gore Mailing

The back of the envelope featured statistics on the following savings: trees, pounds of solid waste, pounds of greenhouse gases, gallons of wastewater and BTUs of energy.


Please click here to view the mailing
,
which features all relevant eco-logos and a union label, as well as a full environmental report of the savings realized by using the above-mentioned practices. The statistics are from the Environmental Defense Paper Calculator, which I have written about on numerous occasions as being an excellent resource, especially due to its independent and transparent nature.

Highlights from Environmental Defense Green Business Unconference

338777292By Lenora Deslandes (Green Marketing & Sustainability Practice, Grossman Marketing Group)

Sustainability and the environment have been my main areas of study for the past three years at Boston University. After speaking with professors about issues and serving as an active member of a wide array of sustainability initiatives on the BU campus, I decided it was important for my development to receive some real-world experience in the sustainability space. After researching businesses that valued and were leaders in sustainability, I was excited to find a home for the summer as an intern for Grossman Marketing Group. One of the many opportunities I have had so far was to attend the Green Business for Innovation Unconference, organized by Environmental Defense, on Monday, June 22.

This conference, or rather, unconference, was different than any other I’ve ever attended. There was no agenda upon arrival. No keynote speaker, no panel of experts. Instead, the topics of each of the 45-minute discussion sessions were decided upon at the beginning by everyone collectively and then led by a volunteer attendee. This may sound like a recipe for chaos, but in fact, it was quite the opposite. In all the sessions I attended (Practical Tools for Sustainability, Greening Small Businesses, and Big Business/Small Business Collaboration) the discussions were freeflowing yet managed to be relevant and interesting. And when the moderator, Odin Zackmin of DIG IN, popped in to give the five-minute warning, the conversation was neatly wrapped up and attendees exchanged contact information.

The tone during the conference was one of shared experiences, advice lending, and support – very different from the cut-throat world of business I had expected to encounter. As so eloquently put by Holly Fowler, senior director of corporate citizenship for Sodexo, “the new competitive advantage is the ability to share what you have done with others. It is no longer exclusivity.”

If there is any embodiment of this new path business is on, it is the unconference. There were about 85 participants representing all areas of business from large corporations like Citizens Bank and Stop & Shop to local activists and small business employees and even interns. Although all participants were different, it was clear from the start that everyone had the same goal: to engage in a meaningful conversation about sustainability issues and how they can be best addressed by businesses combining everyone’s experience and expertise.

Some of my key takeaways were:

  • There needs to be a collaborative effort between big and small businesses to share best practices on how to become green
  • The need for a central database of information and resources where businesses can connect with each other was repeatedly raised
  • It’s important for businesses to motivate people to make green choices to ensure a long-term, sustainable future

The unconference brought to light many obstacles businesses face in addressing sustainability but also made it clear that a future of sustainable business practices being the norm is not only possible but well on its way.

Notes from most of the discussion sessions can be found here.

Direct Mail Insight: Green Envelopes and the Big Picture

bigstockphoto_Mail_Box_With_Letters_2482928Last month, Target Marketing Magazine published an article on trends surrounding environmentally-friendly envelopes – I was on vacation at the time so I didn’t get a chance to pass it along then.  Here’s a link to the article.

As I’ve written on a number of occasions, “green” envelopes are an important part of an organization’s marketing and communications efforts (we have already sold more than a quarter billion envelopes made with 100% certified wind power over the past couple years).  In fact, they are often the first component of a direct mail piece that a recipient sees, and it is important to take that opportunity to send a values-laden message through the materials/inks/energy that are used to produce the piece.

Obviously, using green practices for direct mail should be just one of the many sustainable business practices that organizations employ – otherwise they could be accused of greenwashing.  However, given recent developments in technology, mailers can make their pieces more environmentally-friendly without adding much, if any, cost, which removes the most critical barrier to adoption.  Research has demonstrated that consumers want to buy products from companies that do business in an environmentally-responsible manner.  Marketing collateral is one way for organizations to demonstrate this commitment.

Here’s a link to the full article.

An inside look at the greening of Harvard Business School

HBS Green TeamI’m pleased to include a guest post from Katharine Randel, who is a staff member of the Marketing Unit at Harvard Business School, as well as a member of the school’s Green Team.  I met Kathy earlier this year when I gave a presentation on green marketing and green business issues to the HBS Green Team (HBS is a client of our firm), and I was struck by her passion for and knowledge about sustainability issues.

I invited her to write an article on the work that the HBS Green Team is doing to help reduce the carbon footprint of the school, and I’m excited to feature her report below.

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By Katharine Randel

When I began working at Harvard Business School several years ago, there was no paper recycling program.  Dismayed at how much paper I was putting in the trash every day, I enthusiastically joined a group of MBA students spearheading an effort to bring paper recycling to campus as soon as I learned of their work.  A few months later, recycling bins began appearing around campus, and today all offices have them.  In the years following, several sustainability practices were added to the HBS campus (for example, solar panels were added to the roof of the gym); but as an administrative employee supporting faculty, I was not involved…until recently.

A few years ago, Meghan Duggan was hired as assistant director of mechanical, electrical, plumbing and sustainability projects.  One of Meghan’s initiatives was to start an HBS Green Team of employees across all departments whose mission it is to establish a sense of environmental awareness throughout the HBS community.  The goal of the Green Team is to effect a change in behavior among faculty and staff that leads to a reduction in water and energy consumption and waste generation.  In January, I became the Green Team representative for a building of 250 faculty and staff.

This winter the Green Team held an energy competition in which ten office buildings on campus competed to reduce their energy consumption from the same time period the year prior.  This year the overall campus reduction was 24,880 kWh for one month.  The estimated monthly campus savings was $3,732 with an approximate reduction of 10.45 metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions.   Ten-and-a-half metric tons is the equivalent of CO2 emissions from 1,186 gallons of gasoline consumed.   If HBS faculty and staff maintained their energy-saving behavior for the rest of the year, we could save $44,784 and reduce CO2 emissions by 125.40 metric tons.

But the numerical results are only part of the story.  Another goal of the competition was to raise awareness and educate faculty and staff about sustainable behaviors.  In my building the competition has been surprisingly successful.  Since the competition, more than 20 faculty and staff have offered suggestions for ways HBS could reduce its energy consumption.  I circulate suggested behavioral changes back to the building inhabitants and contact various departments to follow up on suggestions.  When people see me in the hall they now tell me the latest steps they’ve taken, confess their inaction, or tease me (one of my coworkers turned out the lights in the copy room — knowing I was in the room — to “conserve energy”).  I am thrilled; every conversation and email tells me faculty and staff are more aware and the efforts of the Green Team are making a difference.

To learn more about Harvard Business School and Harvard University’s efforts towards environmental sustainability please see the following websites:  HBS Business & Environment and Harvard Operations Services Sustainability.

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Katharine Randel is the Unit Coordinator for the Marketing Unit at Harvard Business School. In that role she collaborates with faculty to create strategies and programs that foster the unit’s cohesion and purpose.  She has been passionate about improving the health of our natural environment since reading Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring in seventh grade. In addition to her HBS Green Team activities she has studied environmental management at Harvard Extension School and has been composting and growing organic fruit and vegetables for 19 years.