Saturday, August 2, 2008

Discovering Gold by Going Green

It has taken corporate America nearly fifty years to climb aboard the Green movement. The primary reason corporate America ignored the cries of environmentalists, the United Nations, and green advocates was that no one in the Green movement was speaking their language. I’m referring to the twin engines that drive and sustain every business -- customers and profitability.

Now, corporations and national governments are finally getting the message and responding to Green initiatives. At the same time, consumers are stepping up their commitment to the Green Movement by purchasing products from green companies and adopting recommended practices to reduce their carbon footprint.

What caused the change on the part of business to go Green? Certainly, it took leadership from within. In 2005, when General Electric’s CEO Jeffrey Immelt announced his company’s major investment in green technology, companies decided to jump on the green bandwagon and find a way to make money. Within a few years, most companies have figured out how to make money from their Green initiatives. Soon, profits will follow.

National governments are also getting the message. A recent example are China’s leaders who have taken dramatic steps to reduce pollution in Beijing in time for the 2008 Summer Olympic Games. They understand that televised images of Beijing under clouds of toxic pollutants will hurt China’s prospects for foreign investment and tourism. China’s leaders also understand they must find a way to manage their rapid growth without incurring the wrath of Green leaders.

We’ve come a long ways since former first lady Lady Bird Johnson first raised our nation’s consciousness in 1964 to beautify America’s highways and public landscapes after being angered by the site of junkyards, billboards, and roadside litter. But, have we come far enough? Not really. There’s still much work to be done to ensure the continued viability of our natural resources and a healthy environment.

So, how can your business discover the gold by going green? Here are three proven ways to benefit from going Green:

1. Produce products and offer services that compliment the environment. It’s no surprise that gas guzzling vehicles like the once-envied Hummer are no longer selling. Consumers are turned-off by cars that are not fuel-efficient and pollute the environment. This is why hybrids and electric cars have waiting lists. Consumers want economical choices. Products that are biodegradable or compostable are also very popular among consumers as are organic restaurants and health-based grocery stores. Anything that legitimately touts the green label will catch the eyes of consumers -- even if it costs a few pennies more. Among service-driven companies that are making Green gains are hotel chains such as Starwood, Hilton, and Sofitels to name a few. Many hotels have taken steps to reduce their carbon footprint by conserving water and electricity, reducing the use of chemicals, educating employees on green practices, and encouraging guests to participate in their sustainability efforts. These positive measures not only make sense in terms of attracting more guests, but they are also good for the bottom line. A recent hotel industry report shows that during the last quarter of 2007, green hotels experienced a six percent jump in occupancy compared to their competitors who did not make a similar commitment to going green. This proves that consumers will support Green initiatives.

2. Tout your Brand’s Environmental Benefits. More businesses are promoting the environmental benefits of their products and services. Manufacturers of products ranging from hair spray to cereal have found a way to spin the environmental benefits of whatever they’re selling. Of course, consumers want to see the proof and not just the sizzle that claims that your products/services are environmentally-friendly. So, be prepared to prove your claims. This leads to the third factor.

3. Get Certified. The fastest way for any business to build credibility with consumers is to get certified by a legitimate green certification organization, or have its products certified. In the product certification area, there are several credible organizations that will review specific products against rigid standards that typically are linked to the ISO 14000 Environmental Management Standards. The most noteworthy are the LEED Program for new and existing buildings. This progressive program is sponsored by the non-profit U.S. Green Building Council. Green Seal is another reputable product certification organization. For companies and organizations seeking an Organizational Certification, the American Consumer Council is among the few non-profit organizations that provide an independent certification for companies that meet its rigid Green C Certification criteria. ACC also recognizes applicants that meet or surpass the Green C standards.

But, a word of caution… as more companies go Green, consumers need to be leery of unscrupulous marketers who simply want to position their products as politically correct without substantiating their commitment to environmental compliance or corporate social responsibility. This includes profiteers who masquerade as environmental auditors and self-appointed industry groups that are entering the certification business for only one reason -- to make a fast buck. That’s not to suggest that consultants and environmental auditors should be avoided. On the contrary. There are many reputable companies that can guide your company as it goes green. But, choose wisely and do your homework, Make sure any certification criteria will challenge your company to raise its environmental performance bar. Also, be sure consultants who claim to be auditors haven’t just hung out their shingle. Look for bona fide non-profit certification organizations or seasoned consulting practices that have a strong track record in this area.

Finally, be sure there is some kind of recognition component to your environmental certification process. This way, you will not only be doing good things for the environment, but you’ll also make your marketing team happy because they can leverage your Green achievements and showcase your best practices! This will give you a leg-up on the competition which translates to more customers and higher profits. Also, a Green Certification that has a strong public image will mean something to your customers and prospective customers.

About the Author: Thomas Hinton is president of the American Consumer Council which administers ACC’s Green C Certification Program. He is a popular speaker on Business, Environmental, and Corporate Social Responsibility issues. Mr. Hinton can be reached at: