For businesses to thrive, sustainability must be an imperative—otherwise you're just green.
By Christopher Beck
Green was once enough for businesses. Reduce waste. Recycle. Plant a tree.
Sustainability is king now. It's a balance of profitable business, environmentally friendly policy and corporate strategy that covers carbon footprints, resource management and even human rights. Yet acting responsibly in this time and space isn't enough. The future must be even clearer and cleaner.
People, planet and profit are central. Businesses need to channel objectives around sustainable practices – for the good of your workforce, clients and the world around you. At the same time, production must remain lively and profits strong.
It's no longer a matter of green at your convenience.
10 Businesses That Get It
1. Banco Santander
A backbone of biodiversity and sustainability is key to bank business. Santander is one of 78 institutions allied in the Equator Principles, which assesses environmental and social risk for project finance transactions. The principles have boosted global awareness of community environmental standards.
High. Santander's sustainability is so interwoven into its practices that it has helped spur practices similar to the Equator Principles, such as the Carbon Principles, in the United States.
Bob Gerding's vision was for better awareness that sustainability has far-reaching economic and social benefits. Gerding-Edlen, a real-estate investment and development firm, focuses on sustainability upgrades at the lowest possible cost, and even arranges financing.
High. Gerding-Edlen can easily carry out resource efficiency strategies to a client's entire real-estate holdings, from preliminary assessments and project development to completion.
IBM's been ahead in the green game since 1971. IBM's initiatives are many and varied, but the smarter building concept is a mash-up of many of the company's innovations. Integration of management software and sensors monitor energy consumption, lighting use and even parking-lot use.
So much of IBM's sustainable efforts don't garner headlines, but the company has championed many initiatives that impact everything from the environment to human rights:
Conflict Minerals: IBM is committed to an electronic supply chain free of conflict region-originated materials, namely gold, tantalum, tin and tungsten from the Democratic Republic of Congo. IBM's conflicts minerals standard acknowledges the company's role in having an impact.
Cloud computing GHG emissions: The Global e-Sustainability Initiative, an advocate of green Internet technology, reports a focus on cloud computing could result in more than $2.2 billion saved annually in energy dependency. IBM implements climate-protection programs, especially those that key on reduction of carbon dioxide emissions.
IBM offers cloud services from seven global data centers. It uses system virtualization, which centralizes many workloads onto a single system, which cuts cost and energy consumption to the tune of 104,300 MWh and $10 million, according to IBM's website.
High. IBM research points to preemptive features for weather events, smart grids to audit water efficiency and onsite energy generation and storage of any sized vehicle fleet.
4. Life Technologies
The company creates products for applied sciences, genetic analysis and scientific research. It navigates on a sustainable track, much like IBM and Santander. Its mission is to improve food and water quality, enhance healthcare and protect genetic diversity.
High. Life Technologies' strategy aims straight at improving energy, agriculture and food safety. These are lofty aspirations, but the company’s goals are admirable.
5. Munich Reinsurance Group
Research analytics from Sustainalytics and Trucost brought the sustainability of this German insurance company to light, especially for climate protection. It has a goal of carbon-neutral business operations by 2015, and cites a need for better practices for combating climate change.
Medium-high. Munich Reinsurance has researched climate change for decades. As an insurer, Munich Re has a direct interest in helping to prevent natural disasters caused by climate change.
6. National Australia Bank
NAB influences its suppliers for a sustainable existence in their work spaces. The bank recognizes the significance its suppliers have on its own sustainability and reputation. A set of principles must be met if a supplier wants to do business with NAB.
High. NAB's sustainability standards are so front-and-center, they're impossible to work around. NAB institutes an action plan for client non-compliance that must be met within 12 months.
Toyota's emphasis is on education. The Toyota Green Initiative centers on sustainable lifestyles, through historically black colleges and universities and environmental non-profits. Investment in hybrid technology – electric vehicles, fuel-cell cars and plug-ins – spearhead an effort toward zero emissions.
High. Toyota's attention to college-age consumers isn't just strategic, it's also a stewardship. Such focus draws attention to an armada of hybrid vehicles that leads in innovation.
Verizon's efforts to employ renewable energy, such as solar power and micro turbines, for everything from manufacturing to data-center operations demonstrate a commitment to sustainability. Verizon has also implemented trade-in programs to refurbish older devices and lessen the strain on landfills.
High. Verizon's fiber Internet service relies on developing technologies, such as ultra-long-haul network transmission in 100% percent fiber systems. That eliminates a reliance on copper wires.
The data center for this Indian IT company, located in North Carolina, attained LEED-Gold certification, meaning the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design bestowed its second-highest designation for energy-efficient, water-conserving buildings.
High. Wipro's aversion to use of hazardous substances and a partnership with WWF India show a dedication to waste and water management and biodiversity conservation.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency reports Intel as the largest voluntary purchaser of green power in the nation since 2008. In 2013, Intel improved its green-power purchases to 100% of all its U.S. energy use, twice as much as in 2008. Intel has also reduced its greenhouse emissions.
Medium high. An initiative to outfit 18 global locations with solar electricity could boost Intel's sustainability index to high. A $100 million investment water conservation programs helps, too.
These initiatives are crucial not only to the companies that implement them, but also to their competitors, partners and suppliers.
Many of these ideas aren't making headlines every day, but they impact the way business is done and influence other entities. There’s an undeniable momentum here, and as it becomes more widespread, other companies can implement their own influential initiatives. Then business could change the world for good.
About the Author:
Christopher Beck is a sustainability consultant. Originally from Asheville, NC, he graduated with a degree from the University of South Carolina and is now pursuing a career trying to make the world a better, cleaner place.