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A new article from Fast Company is a good look at all the different kinds of environmental thinking now popping up on corporate radar screens all over the place. It’s notable for several reasons. For one, while some of these changes may not seem like much on the surface, they’re part of something I don’t think we’ve seen before: a deep overhaul of all kinds of wasteful systems that have been begging for meaningful change for years.
Add up all these “ways to go green” and you start to actually see what we’ve been looking for: the beginnings of a systemic response to the climate crisis and other ills born of unsustainability. Businesses are suddenly thinking in ways quite new to them and looking at all areas of their operations for ways to do better and be cleaner.
It feels quite different from other various times when it seemed like maybe something similar was happening (notably Earth Day 1990), but it really wasn’t. You know the scenario: environmental issues flash into the flavor of the day and companies rush to get in on the marketing action by trotting out all kinds of initiatives and products, etc. that seem green on the surface but are really just business as usual underneath. As soon as the spotlight fades, they can’t get off the bandwagon fast enough and suddenly it’s like nothing ever happened.
Not this time. It just doesn’t feel like it has before. When you’ve got companies redesigning technologies, packaging, and obscure elements like shipping systems that really don’t have a tangible marketing angle at all, you’ve got something more than a gimmick to boost sales. I think you’ve got the beginning glimmers of an emerging new corporate consciousness. People are paying a deeper kind of attention now in ways and to things that they haven’t before. There’s an legitimate awareness that we’re in a bit of pickle and that the situation is, at the very least, going to be bad for sales if it continues.
I have to admit that there’s a part of me that just instinctively wants to roll my eyes at all this and feels a little told-you-so. You know… we’ve been over here for nearly two decades now hollering about this exact same stuff, waving our arms, pleading with anybody who’d listen and even those who wouldn’t that change was not only needed, it was actually really good for the bottom line. So there’s a definite “what took you guys so long?” feeling in play. The corporate responsibility community has been trying to light this fire since before most of today’s management teams got their MBAs. And the doomsday clock might not be at five seconds to midnight if you guys had stepped up to the plate and done all this much sooner.
But there’s a bigger part of me that’s simply happy to see so much impressive progress being made so quickly at a time when every second counts. I know a lot of these things are baby steps, but a lot of them aren’t, too. And I know that in many cases the motive here is efficiency and less waste for profit’s sake not so much maybe for the planet’s. But that’s business. That’s the language it speaks. If that language gets us to a healthy and sustainable world, who am I to argue? Whatever works for you guys works for me.
It’s very much like that incredible girl I had that wicked bad crush on in the 9th grade: You’d rather have her show up late to the big party than not at all. And you don’t really care why she came. You’re just glad she did.