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Strategies for the Green Economy

February 26, 2009

I just finished reading Joel Makower’s most recent book Strategies for the Green Economy.  After getting a call today from a potential client who has been told by corporate headquarters to “go green”, I have been pondering today two of the questions Makower talks about in his book.  “What is green anyway?”  And, “Where do you start when you are just beginning to think about going green?”.  I just revisited Chapter 21, Three Keys to “Good Enough,” and it stands out for me as one of the most helpful chapters in the book.  He presents a high-level framework to consider what trying to answer the question, “How good is ‘good enough;?”

The three basic questions he poses seem like great starting points for a company just beginning to think about greening their operations.  The three questions are:

1.  What do you know?

2.  What are you doing?

3.  What are you saying?

What do you know?

A great starting off point is to conduct a baseline assessment to understand the components of your environmental footprint.  Of course it is never that simple, because in addition to direct impacts, businesses need to think about their environmental footprint upstream (i.e. their supply chain) and also consider downstream, the ultimate disposition of their products. Makower’s point is that when you fully analyze your carbon footprint, you might be surprised, like Coca-Cola was, to learn that your biggest piece of your footprint might not come from your direct operations, but downstream in the sales and marketing process.

What are you doing?

Once you know where you are, it is time to develop a bold vision for where you want to go.  And according to Makower, “To pass scrutiny among competitors, activists, employees, customers, and the media, you also may need to make public the policies, processes, progress indicators and performance results that show how you are or aren’t reaching your goal.”

What are you saying?

In today’s world of transparency, companies with no CSR report or other environmental reporting mechanisms are setting themselves up for criticism from the media, activists and even shareholders who are demanding reporting on key sustainability indicators.

“What is the story you want to tell?” asks Makower, as we addresses the perils of telling too much or too little.  Employees, customers, stakeholders and business partners want to know your green story–the key is what message and level of detail is appropriate?  Authentic and realistic are two words that popped out to me in this section.

Chapter 29 presents another sustainable business strategy framework–CRED from the firm GreenOrder.  The four key pieces of a solid green strategy are:

Credibility (why should anyone believe you?)

Relevance (how can you leverage green to create value?)

Effective messaging (how to translate complex data into compelling messages?) and

Differentiation (do you have unique goals and achievements?)

I think for a company just beginning to implement a sustainability program or one that wants to improve, these two chapters offer some great wisdom and frameworks to consider.

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