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Find the green in going green - or face extinction

Recycling some materials like plastics may serve to perpetuate industries that consume enormous amounts of petrochemicals.


Good To Green (By John-David Phyper and Paul MacLean, John Wiley, 446 pages, $34.95)

Smart Green (By Jonathan Estes, John Wiley, 202 pages, $35.99)

We're in the middle of a Green Rush. And like the fabled Gold Rush of the 1800s, this Green Rush has the ability to make some plucky people rich if they have the requisite business acumen and good timing.

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Those who ignore environmental issues - believing it's just another fad - may ultimately rue their cynicism.

"Organizations that fail to consider environmental issues in their business model may find themselves victims of the inevitable bust that awaits those who miss out," management consultants John-David Phyper of Toronto and Paul MacLean of Montreal write in Good To Green.

Boardroom discussions on environmental issues these days, they say, are no longer about the fact it would be "nice to do." Instead, it's viewed as "business critical," an essential element of corporate strategy.

Even Wal-Mart, which has traditionally been aloof to social issues, is focused on energy conservation, reducing packaging materials and greenhouse gases and eliminating hazardous material from its supply chain - and, not incidentally, reducing costs with these initiatives.

To understand why this is happening, the authors urge you to follow the money trail. Many consumers are eager to buy green, at times paying a premium, so there are added revenue possibilities.

Environmental initiatives routinely save money, whether it's from reducing energy costs or eliminating wasteful packaging.

Government initiatives - whether fines for polluting, carbon taxes or market incentives to cut greenhouse gases - will also have significant monetary implications for business.

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To minimize environmental impact and maximize revenue for your company, they suggest you abide by the following principles:

  • Integrate the environment in all business decisions: Failing to do so may impair your profitability.
  • Seek the truth, since both sides in the environmental debate are spreading misinformation: Business leaders need to find reputable sources of information, so they can base their decisions on the best intellectual foundation
  • Eliminate waste throughout the product life cycle: Be bold, like DuPont, which adopted an environmental slogan "the goal is zero," committing to a stretch target of reducing its environmental footprint to nil. "Don't put up psychological barriers before you begin," the consultants warn.
  • Treat stakeholders as you would want to be treated: "There can't be anything good about putting chemicals in the air," then-Wal-Mart CEO Lee Scott told employees in 2005. "There can't be anything good about the smog you see in cities. There can't be anything good about putting chemicals into rivers in Third World countries so that somebody can buy an item for less money in a developed country. Those things are just inherently wrong, whether you are an environmentalist or not."
  • Eliminate hazardous chemicals : The writing is on the wall: They won't be acceptable much longer.
  • Switch away from high-carbon energy sources: Again, this is something you will have to do - the only question is timing. Invest in new energy sources that will offer cost efficiencies.
  • Promote cultures of innovation: Develop and covet change agents in your company that can be evangelists for this new mode of operating.
  • Leverage new technologies: They can give you competitive advantage while reducing your environmental footprint. Continuously monitor the latest technology in this area, and invest in it where necessary to give you a commercial advantage.
  • Don't forget basic business principles: You can't spend money will-nilly on sentiment. You still need to develop solid business plans for your environmental endeavours.

That advice is meant for existing companies, but the Green Rush also holds promise for start-ups where founders can tap into this new wave. In Smart Green, consultant Jonathan Estes shows how to lace environmental thinking into the traditional business plan process that entrepreneurs undertake.

One schema he presents, useful to existing or new companies, outlines four levels of being green:

  • This is the most basic, when the company provides a healthy and safe working environment, opts for non-toxic cleaning materials and implements a reduce, recycle, reuse program for its facilities.
  • The company goes beyond that to have all of its packaging, paper goods and other similar material come from 100-per-cent recycled sources. It has initiatives to decrease energy and oil consumption, and diversify energy sources.
  • The company is actively designing or redesigning its processes to reduce the environmental footprint. It invests in certification programs that report on how effective its environmental stewardship has been.
  • The company is practising the highest form of sustainable practices, given current technology. It declines to use petroleum- or nuclear-based sources of energy. It has zero emissions, and there is no impact on the environment from extraction to waste in its product life cycle.

Good To Green starts out promising, but after the first chapter, the book seems like one long appendix, with endless bullet-point lists that readers are expected to wade through. It would be good background for high-level thinking on the environment in a corporation, as it lists the intricacies of emissions trading or various environmental legislation in major countries, but it fails to serve as much of a guide to action.

Smart Green is better on that score, with some neat ideas to add to your planning process, but the writing and ideas are somewhat uneven.

Instead, you may want to consider Green To Gold (John Wiley, 380 pages, $21.95), by Yale professor Daniel Esty and consultant Andrew Winston, which I reviewed a few years ago and has just been reissued in paperback.

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It takes you through environmental activities of leading companies, the pitfalls to be alert to, and how to gain an eco-advantage.

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