Good News on the Environmental Front
© 2006 by Corinne McLaughlin
I’m one of those who’s been working on environmental issues forever--from
political activism in the late ‘60s, to co-founding a small “eco-village” in the
70’s (Sirius Community in MA) with practical demonstrations of solar and wind
energy and organic agriculture, to policy work for President Clinton’s Council
on Sustainable Development in the ‘90s. More than 12 years ago, the Council was
working with CEOs of major companies and directors of key environmental groups
to create innovative approaches to stopping global warming and creating
So I’m especially happy to see the environmental movement get a real boost from
the popularity of Al Gore’s dramatic film, An Inconvenient Truth. The
film has greatly raised the visibility of the global warming issue, as more and
more people jump on the bandwagon and “green” practices become the latest cool
style featured on the covers of Newsweek and Time magazines.
Sustainable business practices that help protect the environment and reduce
global warming are growing rapidly, as companies find it helps the bottom line.
A 1995 Vanderbilt University analysis found that in 8 out of 10 cases,
low-polluting companies financially outperformed their dirtier competitors. In
recent years, over 300 multi-national corporations joined the UN Global Compact,
pledging to support environmental protection, human rights, and higher labor
Many large multi-national corporations are now making major changes, following
the lead of small innovative companies which have laid the foundations for
years. More than 560 pioneering San Francisco Bay Area firms are certified as
“green businesses” by the Alameda, California county government and the
Sustainable Business Alliance. Here are a few examples of large and small
Ray Anderson, founder of Interface Carpets, the world’s largest
commercial carpeting manufacturer, trained 8,000 employees in environmental
sustainability, with the dramatic goal of reducing pollution to zero percent in
the next few years. Instead of buying a carpet, you now rent a carpet, and when
it wears out, you bring it back to be recycled, and are given a new recycled
one. Anderson estimates that his accompany has already saved $185 million on
waste reduction efforts alone.
Coffee has partnered with Conservation International to work with its
farmer/suppliers in Mexico to promote water and soil conservation and
reduction of chemical fertilizers and pesticides. Home Depot
recently introduced a line of lumber products grown through sustainable
Responding to pressure from environmentalists, McDonald’s and Wendy’s
have developed more ecologically friendly packaging. At Hewlett-Packard
each product has a steward whose job is to minimize its ecological footprint by
reducing packaging, reducing toxic materials in the product, increasing
recycling, etc. By reducing, reusing and recycling, Fetzer Wine has
reduced its garbage by 97%. It buys recycled paper, cans and glass for their
products, has switched from petroleum to biodiesel fuel, and farms its own
Mistsubishi Electric American specified that their suppliers could not
provide them with paper or timber from old growth forests. Once they set the
example, almost 500 other companies followed their lead, and together they saved
four million acres of forest.
Sales of Toyota’s
popular energy-efficient hybrid car, the Prius, climbed to 250,000 by May 2006,
and the company is advancing its research and development of plug-in hybrids
which will have extended range capacity using only the electric drive. Toyota
and Menicon Co., Ltd., Japan’s largest manufacturer of contact lenses,
have jointly developed an efficient manure composting process which helps solve
environmental problems caused by the storage of animal waste in agricultural
areas, using thermophilic bacteria and a new enzymatic agent.
Organic Valley (the second largest producer of organic dairy products)
saw 25% growth in past few years. 45% of its profits are shared with farmers;
45% with employees, 10% with the community. Seventh Generation, which
commands 48% of the natural household products market, saw revenue growth of 40%
Whole Foods, the world’s leading natural and organic foods supermarket
recently made the largest renewable energy purchase anywhere to offset 100% of
its electricity use in all 180 stores. It is purchasing more than 458,000
megawatt-hours of renewable energy credits from wind farms—the same
environmental impact of taking 60,000 cars off the road or planting 90,000 acres
of trees. Whole Foods was ranked for nine consecutive years by Fortune
magazine as one of the “100 Best Companies to Work For,” and CEO John MacKey
says shareholders’ interests take a back seat to customers’ and workers’
interests. Executive salaries are capped at 14 times the average worker’s pay.
Co-President Walter Robb, says, “We’re not retailers who have a mission—we’re
missionaries who retail.”
global importance of climate change, Coldwater Creek, one of the fastest
growing women’s clothing retailers, made a decision recently to offset 100% of
its energy consumption with renewable energy certificates in order to
dramatically decrease its impact on the environment. Over the next three years,
the company has committed to buy more than 217,000 megawatt-hours of
wind-generated electricity. By supporting wind energy, Coldwater Creek is
preventing more than 299 million pounds of CO2 – a key greenhouse gas – from
entering the Earth’s atmosphere between now and 2009. This is the equivalent CO2
savings of taking nearly 30,000 cars off the road for one year. This is being
accomplished through the purchase of an innovative product known as renewable
energy certificates, which are independently audited by the non-profit Center
for Resource Solutions. Renewable energy certificates provide a means for
consumers to purchase and support wind power that is "injected" into the power
grid by renewable energy producers.
Wal-Mart made a huge move in 2006 into organic foods, eliminating
chemical fertilizers, antibiotics, etc. Amory Lovins, co-founder of The Rocky
Mountain Institute and a world-respected pioneer in energy efficiency, is
working closely with Wal-Mart to reduce green-house gases. Wal-Mart also
pledged to run entirely on renewable energy and produce zero net waste. It
committed to double the fuel efficiency of its huge truck fleet in 10 years –
saving $300 million in fuel costs per year.
While Wal-Mart’s track record of concern for the welfare of its employees or the
local communities where it builds is infamously dismal, its bottom-line
calculation of the profitability of these moves will motivate other companies in
similar directions. And its potential influence on its world-wide supply chain
could be far greater than that of the U.S. government.
There are three signs that demonstrate a company’s authentic conversion to more
enlightened practices: 1) publicly announced specific goals and timetables; 2)
buy-in at every level of the company and 3) transparent reporting. So Wal-Mart
will be closely watched.
sustainable business movement is one of the hopeful signs that business, as the
most powerful institution in world today, may be transforming from within. As
World Business Academy cofounder Willis Harman remarked many years ago, “The
dominant institution in any society needs to take responsibility for the whole,
as the church did in the days of the Holy Roman Empire.” Each day, more and
more businesses are helping create a better world by becoming more socially
responsible--honoring “people, planet, profit”—the triple bottom line.
And their financial success is very convincing!
||Corinne McLaughlin is Executive Director of The
Center for Visionary Leadership and co-author of Spiritual Politics.
She is a Fellow of the World Business Academy and coordinated a national
task force for President Clinton’s Council on Sustainable Development.
Corinne can be reached at