The Greening of America?



When the zeitgeist shifts, it really shifts.

The beginning of 2007 saw one of the warmest Januaries on record, and instead of snow, we were treated to a flurry of articles, announcements, conferences, and high level public speeches that demanded action on the part of countries, individuals and companies to begin to address the issue of global warming. Appearing simultaneously but independently, Fortune magazine talked about the new wave of socially responsible investing that rejects the notion that there is trade-off between investing on the basis of principles and investing for return (“New Rules for Do-Good Funds,” February 5, 2007 issue); The Economist featured a cover story titled “The Greening of America” (January 27, 2007) that looked at the sudden shift in corporate America in favor of emission controls and other measures designed to reduce carbon output and greenhouse gasses; BusinessWeek ran a cover story called “Beyond the Green Corporation” that predicted a world where eco-friendly and socially responsible business practices directly help a company’s bottom-line (and focused on the groundbreaking work of Innovest, which screens companies for their environmental and socially responsible bona fides); and the World Economic Forum in Davos at the end of January featured panel after panel of CEOs, politicians, and activists who spoke with one voice about the need to change the way they operate in order to reduce the negative impact on the environment.

These were just the most noticeable in a few week span, but are hardly a comprehensive list of the hundreds (yes, hundreds) of daily articles and stories about the greening of corporate America, not to mention Europe, Asia, and the rest of the world. You know things are changing when one of the cutting-edge companies in these endeavors is Wal-Mart, which is remaking its supply chain (an initiative called “Sustainability 360”) to save on both materials and costs. Whether or not Wal-Mart’s green efforts will serve to offset the negative attention it has received in Washington and the media for labor issues remains to be seen, but the folks in Bentonville clearly get that they can reduce costs and improve profitability by cutting down on everything from shipping material to the size of washing detergent packages. Meanwhile, state after state is mandating utility companies to go greener, none more explicitly than California, led by its newly-green governator, Arnold Schwarzenegger who endorsed the state’s solar energy initiative. And Washington, playing catch-up, is beginning to add funding to solar power, biofuel programs, and alternative energy. And then there is Sir Richard Branson, who not only committed billions at the Clinton Global Initiative to support innovation for the betterment of the environment, but just the other day announced that he would give $25 million dollars to any scientist who can save the planet from climate change. The only thing this cultural shift lacks is a ditty, some sort of Bob Dylan Times They Are A-Changin’ ballad for greening. Seems like a job for Bono, if he weren’t so busy saving the world in between concerts.