Years from now, we may look back on 2007 as the year we finally got serious about saving the planet. True, the green movement has been around for decades; it dates back at least as far as the first worldwide "Earth Day" in 1970. But the idea has been slow to gain traction among large corporations. Or so we thought before we began developing this month's cover story on the "greening of logistics."
As we delved deeper into the subject, we found that green definitely isn't just for the granola crowd anymore. The green crusade has gone mainstream, with a following that includes the Unilevers, General Electrics, and Wal-Marts of the world. What's more, the movement has legs. You'll be reading even more about it in the months, years, and even decades to come.
Why the sudden interest in going green? The answer is simple enough. There is money to be saved. It makes sense if you think about it. Cut down on excess packaging (think of those boxes within a box), and you save on shipping costs. Bale up your plastic waste instead of tossing it in the trash, and you can make money by selling it (and avoid paying somebody to haul it away). Install solar panels or wind turbines on a plant or DC, and you cut your fossil fuel bills. The examples could go on and on, but what it comes down to is this: American businesses are finally coming to realize that earth-friendly initiatives aren't just a marketing shtick (think Ben & Jerry's circa 1980); they're a way to reduce costs and thus, to boost the bottom line.
This is a defining moment for the green movement. In the past, the decision to go green was as risky as it was laudable. Whether it was organic produce or wrapping paper with a high recycled paper content, goods and services marketed by socially responsible companies invariably carried a higher price—a sort of eco-premium. Sure, those environmentally friendly products found a market among consumers passionate enough about the cause to pay extra for them—and with the financial wherewithal to do so. But that market was limited. For most of the world, the decision came down to money.
The new economics of green could change all that. Environmentally sustainable programs that save money will provide a powerful incentive for companies to green up their corporate acts. In the end, the market rules.And when the market says there's money to be made (or saved) by heading down a particular path, companies and consumers quickly line up at the trailhead.
That's not to say businesses won't continue to market their groundbreaking green initiatives. Green practices are an irresistible opportunity to polish the corporate image, and we can expect to see greenbased marketing for some time to come.
But over time, the value of green practices as a market differentiator will start to diminish. If earth-friendly manufacturing and logistics techniques become standard practice, if everybody gets on board with the three Rs—reduce, reuse, and recycle—a plastic bag recycling program will no longer set you apart from the crowd. Your competitors will also be emphasizing business practices that eliminate waste wherever possible. Companies will need less to make more. Consumers will send less to the landfill and more to the recycling bin.
Will the result be a more peaceable coexistence between us human beings and Mother Nature? Yes.
Will it be driven by an altruistic pursuit of a cleaner environment? No. As is nearly always the case in a vibrant, free-market economy, the driver will be the money.
In the end, it comes down to this. The road to a greener planet is paved not in yellow bricks, but in greenbacks. Convince the world that green business is good business, and we can help save the planet—one hydrogen cellfueled forklift and solar-powered DC at a time.