Earth Day 2010: Celebrating 40 Years of Baby Steps

April 22, 2010 by

Today is the 40th anniversary of Earth Day – a  time to reflect on the progress that has been made in the environmental movement thus far, and an opportunity to assess the long and likely bumpy road ahead.  

Earth Day is important. It shines a light on the grave environmental issues confronting the planet and rouses people to reconsider their daily routines. Awareness is the first step toward action, so devoting a special “day” to the environment ensures that most people are exposed to some form of sustainability message and are encouraged to take a small step toward reducing their own ecological footprint.

The increased level of interest and excitement is heartening, but it’s also deceptive and fleeting, as it usually fails to catalyze significant, long-term change.

It’s safe to say that if we traveled back in time to 1970, the founders of Earth Day would not be pleased by the progress we’ve made in 40 years.  While Earth Day itself has continued to grow in popularity, those short spurts of participation have not spurred the large-scale, global collaboration necessary for building real solutions to complex environmental problems.

The inherent problem with Earth Day is that it leaves people with a sense of achievement – the ability to check sustainability off their internal “to-do” list and move on with their regular life.

Across the nation (and globe)  today, individuals and organizations are participating in Earth Day celebrations – some that yield meaningful or measurable environmental benefits, and some that are decidedly token or transactional.

A small concrete action, like planting a tree or carting a coffee mug to Starbucks, allows people to feel like they’re doing their part. However, that temporary elation can wear off and leave a residual feeling of futility – like taking a vitamin when you fear you may have cancer.

Many of us fear that our environmental crises are too daunting and pervasive to confront. And it’s true – while incremental changes can add up over time, it’s simply not enough. Yes, let’s all change our light bulbs to compact fluorescents. Then let’s eliminate plastic bags… But then what?

Can we muster the collective will to graduate past “low-hanging fruit” to actions that require a more significant investment or behavioral change? Can we stomach some temporary discomfort in order to really change our habits?

As a sustainability consultant, I see the same struggle happening in the marketplace.  Earth Month is the busiest time of year for a green consultant or eco-entrepreneur. Companies plan lunch-time seminars or volunteer opportunities to demonstrate that they, too, care about the Earth and are willing to devote time and resources to “doing their part.”

Most celebrate the improvements they’ve made in the preceding year. Many distribute branded water bottles or reusable shopping bags. Everyone feels a little better about where they work. But the novelty quickly wears off and then it’s back to business as usual.

There are exceptions to this rule. A handful of businesses have cultivated a progressive or innovative approach to sustainability. Walmart is just one high-profile example of a company that has made a significant investment in reducing the environmental footprint of its own internal operations and supply chain.

However, most businesses have tended to taken a more conservative approach. Many small- to mid-sized companies know they should probably do something, but don’t know where to start, or are waiting until the market improves. Most large companies have made some incremental changes but struggle to make the business case for actions that do not have an immediate or measurable payback.

Making the business case for action can be incredibly difficult, especially in the current climate of economic and legislative uncertainty. The anticlimactic end to Copenhagen and absence of bipartisan political support for meaningful environmental legislation has made regulatory compliance an unlikely business driver in the short-term.  

Similarly, the long-term risk of supply chain instability and resource scarcity can be difficult to quantify in annual business planning and, as a result, usually fails to factor into corporate decision making.  Shoestring budgets and impending layoffs can make all but the most rudimentary conservation efforts seem unpalatable.

The good news is that the few companies that have made more significant investments in sustainability have started to see those efforts pay off. As an example, many building improvements or operational changes result in immediate cost savings, improved efficiency and happier employees.

Some market leaders have also begun to use sustainability as a tool to inspire innovation, and have succeeded in marketing environmentally preferable products or services. There is increasing evidence that a green brand can be a powerful tool for strengthening relationships with current and prospective customers, employees, and investors.

Those small victories can help shift the corporate environmental mindset from sacrifice to opportunity, and demonstrate that environmentally responsible actions can actually add value to a company’s bottom line – in both the short-term and long-term.

Ultimately, green innovation means doing things better, using fewer resources, and considering the upstream and downstream impacts of your decisions.

That is not to say that all sustainability measures are immediately profitable, comfortable or easy. In addition to considering the long-term effects of our actions as individuals and organizations, we must acknowledge that some sacrifice and discomfort will be involved with changing the way we function at work and at home.

A few leading companies, nonprofits and activists cannot shoulder the entire burden of our environmental crisis. We all need to take action and invest in our future. This Earth Day, let’s shift our mindset from incremental to monumental.

From Farm to Front Door: Local Food Made Easy

April 21, 2010 by

What could be better than farm-fresh, mouth-watering produce delivered directly to your doorstep?

Community Supported Agriculture provides a direct link between local farmers and consumers, cutting out the cost, waste and pollution associated with the “middleman.”

CSA Memberships are growing in popularity every year, and it’s easy to see why! CSAs offer weekly delivery of sustainably grown fruits and vegetables during the June−October growing season. Some CSAs also offer unique options like honey, herbs, flowers, eggs, wool, meat or even firewood.

CSA members pay a subscription fee at the beginning of the season to help mitigate the risks associated with operating a small farm.

Here are some factors to consider when selecting a CSA:

  • Location
  • Pick-up or delivery site and time
  • Length of season 
  • Number of deliveries
  • Opportunities for farm visits or other involvement

To learn more about CSA opportunities near you, visit: http://www.landstewardshipproject.org/csa.html.
 

Running Up a Better Return on Your Lifecycle Investment

April 5, 2010 by

The following is an excerpt from my recent article on greenbiz.com.

You probably wouldn’t run a marathon without training for it first, right? Safe to say you’d try jogging a few times before embarking on the full 26.2-mile run?

Completing a full lifecycle assessment (LCA) is a bit like running a marathon. It’s a lengthy, resource-intensive process, and it’s best to be armed with a strong understanding of what you’re getting into before begin.

Lifecycle work is still foreign to most people, and to make matters more complicated, the industry is constantly evolving. Although full LCAs are becoming more commonplace in corporate America, many companies — particularly small- to mid-sized manufacturers — are still wrestling with how and where to start.

One strategy for overcoming those initial obstacles is to employ an incremental, phased approach to lifecycle work. Targeting a smaller component of the product lifecycle can help companies predict the level of effort required for a full LCA and can still yield real value for a business, so long as the objectives and boundaries of the assessment are clearly articulated at the project outset.

LCA objectives will be different for every company, so start by asking some strategic questions…

To read my entire article visit:

http://www.greenbiz.com/blog/2010/04/01/running-better-return-your-lifecycle-investment

Sustainability 2.0

March 23, 2010 by

What could sustainability and social networking possibly have in common? A lot, as it turns out. It’s a combination that has recently captured the attention and imagination of the Paydirt team, as many of our clients are seeking new and innovative strategies to engage with stakeholders about sustainability.

With the dramatic upswing in online marketing campaigns over the past several years, it’s not surprising that many companies are beginning to “dip their toes” in social media. Social networking is the next marketing frontier, and many are looking to carve out a space as a pioneer in the burgeoning landscape. However, few companies have made the link between social media and communicating with key audiences around the issues of corporate and environmental stewardship.

So why is the link between sustainability and social networking such a natural fit? To start, both are fueled by the exchange of fresh, real-time information. The dialogue around both topics is constantly shifting and evolving. It’s not advisable for the average person or employee to try to “stay apprised” of the explosive growth and changes in either area. Instead, the best strategy is to engage in the dialogue and then look for opportunities to make a meaningful contribution.

In addition, successful sustainability and social networking programs are both centered on a platform of authenticity. The old model of “corporate spin” is now apt to alienate audiences instead of bolstering brand loyalty. Trying to control the message is a sure-fire recipe for disaster. Honesty and transparency are now vital for fueling expansion and growth.

Although the lack of control can be terrifying, smart companies have taken a leadership stance by proactively initiating the dialogue and then shaping the conversation along the way. It’s true that some early adopters will falter or fail; however, today’s market leaders in the sustainability and social networking spaces are companies that dove in head first and have remained committed to that progressive approach.

Finally, both areas are nebulously defined and may always evade a corporate-friendly, clear-cut definition or silo. Coming of age in the conceptual era, sustainability is not constrained within the boundaries of one functional area or corporate department – it transcends disciplines and traditional skill sets. Similarly, by its very nature, social networking levels the “corporate playing field” by removing the former hierarchy of how individuals deliver, receive and respond to information.

Rather than devote hundreds of hours trying to define or control an inherently amorphous space, companies should create opportunities to use both platforms to propel untapped innovation. At Paydirt, we’re particularly excited about using social networking tools to educate and engage employee audiences about sustainability.

In the past, internal communications has often been limited to one-way conversations – anecdotes on the company intranet or newsletters. While important, we believe a multi-faceted, multi-media platform offers significantly more opportunity for forging meaningful connections. We look forward to exploring new solutions and invite you (our readers) to engage in the dialogue, too!

Take the Trash Out! Easy Steps for Reducing Unwanted Mail

March 8, 2010 by

Ever feel disgusted by the amount of mail you receive that automatically gets tossed in the trash? Did you know that 100 million trees are used each year just to produce junk mail?! Stop the vicious cycle of waste and aggravation by following these simple steps:

  1. Register with the Direct Marketing Association’s “Mail Preference Service” to remove your name from many junk mailing lists: https://www.dmachoice.org/dma/member/home.action.
  2. Register with similar service “Valassis” every five years: http://www.valassis.com/1024/Contact/contact_home.aspx.
  3. Cut back on pesky unwanted catalog mailings by registering with Catalog Choice: https://www.catalogchoice.org/signup.
  4. Tag junk mail “Return to Sender” and drop it back in the mail. It won’t stop the mail from being produced, but will hopefully remove your name from their list in the future.
  5. If you’re willing to pay a little money, consider joining www.41pounds.org. With a goal of reducing junk mail by 80-95 percent, 41pounds will contact 20- 30 direct marketing and category companies on your behalf. $41 gets you a five-year subscription and removes your contact information from almost all credit card or insurance offers, coupon mailers, and catalogs.

Takeaways from the GreenBiz.com State of Green Business Forum

February 25, 2010 by

I’ll assume you aren’t interested in hearing about the hours I spent in airports trying to get to and from Chicago in a blizzard, even though it was how I spent the majority of my time.  Perhaps I’ll do a future posting on the joys of winter travel within the snowbelt.  For now, on to the conference.

The panel of IT leaders focused on smarter … smarter grid, smarter buildings, smarter operations. It’s all about instrumentation. But rather than using instrumentation to see where you’ve been, use it to see where you are, so you can make a course correction if need be. Utilize controls to make your building smarter and more efficient, and monitor KPIs in real-time to optimize your operations. IT departments and technology vendors can play a key role in advancing corporate sustainability by providing the systems and instrumentation necessary to enable continual performance improvement.

Another panel of sustainability strategists from companies such as UPS and Motorola discussed post-Copenhagen views toward carbon management. Have motivations changed? The general consensus from the corporate panel members was that carbon reduction strategies also need to advance other business objectives to garner support from executives. For example, it’s easy to come up with the business case for initiatives that will reduce fuel consumption within corporate fleets.  The reduction in fuel consumption directly translates to cost reduction, in addition to a reduction in carbon emissions. Making cell phones more energy efficient can make the product more competitive and attractive to consumers, and help the consumer save money and reduce their own carbon footprint.

During the same panel discussion, the moderator asked Allison Hannon from The Climate Group what her organization thought about the carbon reduction goals corporations are setting – are the goals significant enough to really make a difference?  She said The Climate Group is less concerned about the actual goals and more concerned about companies focusing efforts in the areas where they can have the biggest impact.  For example, UPS’s air fleet is responsible for a major portion of their total emissions, so she’s happy to see them focusing on emission reduction strategies in this area.  For a bank, she’d like to see them focusing on providing capital to renewable energy projects rather than simply switching to recycled paper.

If you haven’t yet read GreenBiz.com’s new State of Green Business Report, you can check it out here (registration is required.)

In Hot Water – Reducing Water-Related Energy Consumption

February 12, 2010 by

Save energy and money at work! Did you know that a standard hot and cold water cooler can use more energy than a large refrigerator?

Water coolers in businesses consume about 4 billion kilowatt hours of energy every year. Fortunately, there are better options available, including Energy Star qualified models, which use about half as much energy as a standard unit.

So if you discover your water cooler is an energy hog, consider changing to a more energy-efficient model that will save you money in the long run.

And at home! Reduce your energy costs at home by adjusting the settings on your water heater. The average household spends $400-$600 per year on water heating – second only to heating and cooling.

If you lower the thermostat on your water heater to 120 degrees (many are set at 140 degrees), you won’t notice much of a difference, and for each 10 degree reduction in water temperature, you can save between 3-5 percent in energy costs. Reducing the temperature to 120 degrees also helps to slow mineral buildup and corrosion in your water heater and pipes – helping it to run longer and more efficiently. 

Performance Measurement – it’s more exciting than you think!

February 1, 2010 by

As companies reflect on their accomplishments in 2009, many feel good about their efforts in sustainability and are sure they’ve made a difference, but can’t quite quantify their results. Measuring performance can be a challenge (especially initially) and the thought of it doesn’t usually get the sustainability team all fired up.  However, it is essential for maintaining momentum and keeping employees engaged.

First you need to benchmark your baseline environmental performance so you can tell whether your future initiatives make a difference. Which environmental areas do you want to benchmark and monitor on an ongoing basis?  Energy?  Waste?  Water? Identify which areas are applicable to your business and consider the expectations of your stakeholders (e.g. investors, customers, consumers, employees, competitors.) Now determine the specific metrics that makes the most sense. Do you simply want to track total energy consumption or a normalized version such as energy consumption per unit of production or per dollars of revenue?

Once you decide on the metrics, it’s time to go out and get the data. Some data may be readily available from utility bills or operational performance metrics you already track; other data may need to be obtained from outside service providers (e.g. waste haulers.)  Most of the time these service providers are eager to help once they understand your needs, but be prepared that you may face a little resistance.  Sometimes the service provider will be nervous about why you’re suddenly asking for data you’ve never before requested. They may even think you’re asking because you’re considering changing to another vendor. By taking the time upfront to explain your motivation, you can bypass some possible unpleasantness and set the tone for the service provider to partner with you on this important initiative.

In some cases, you may need to rethink your original set of performance metrics if the data simply isn’t available. For example, if you lease space in a multi-tenant building, utility sub-metering may not exist.

Once you’re able to track your performance, you can communicate and celebrate your successes citing actual quantitative data – and that can actually be pretty exciting!

Paydirt 2010 Sustainability Forecasts Featured on GreenBiz.com

January 25, 2010 by

Eliza Clark reflects on life as a sustainability consultant and offers Paydirt’s predictions for developments in the green business world in 2010. Read the full post here.

Paydirt featured in Upsize Magazine!

January 12, 2010 by

Eliza Clark provides an overview of sustainability considerations for small businesses in the January 2010 issue of Upsize. Read the full article here.