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October 24 2013


Recognizing Sustainability Leadership in Business

Accessing the triple bottom lineThe horrendously irresponsible behavior of some corporations generates well-warranted public mistrust, however, tarring all companies with the same brush is a gross injustice to the sustainability leadership shown by many firms.

For more than a decade, early adopters have been leading the charge to craft a more ecologically friendly world. Now those who led the way have helped that approach morph into a key success factor that adds value and provides a competitive advantage.

There are a number of companies who are assuming a leadership role in efforts to protect the environment, mitigate against climate change and educate the public. While it is easy to understand why some fall prey to the mistaken belief that the bigger the corporation, the greater the level of corporate irresponsibility, this is simply not so.  Some corporate giants like Unilever demonstrate that you can be a global corporate force and be responsible  at the same time. Another well known company that is a global leader in sustainability is Patagonia. Their corporate conduct is exemplary.

There are many other companies that do not get the public recognition they deserve. Here is a review of some of the recent efforts being taking by ten diverse businesses in defense of a healthy planet. Some are well known while others, less so. This broad cross section of initiatives samples the responsible conduct of ten different companies.


AECOM is a global company that is making a positive impact in a broad range of market segments. They have incorporated sustainability into their operations and community activities. They were named one of the World’s Most Ethical Companies by the Ethisphere Institute for the third-consecutive year and they are a signatory and participant in the United Nations Global Compact, the world’s largest corporate responsibility initiative. AECOM’s 2012 employees are leaders in volunteerism and along with the company, they have contributed $3.5 million in charitable donations last year.


Ceres is a company that has not only incorporates sustainability into all of their activities, they are actively helping others to do the same. Their Roadmap for Sustainability and Interactive Website educates people and companies about the different elements of sustainability.


Renewable energy pioneer Ecotricity is a maverick company that has launched an effective approach aimed at raising awareness about the need for clean energy.  They are driving renewable energy awareness through an animated video, which has received more than 2.6 million views. This video addresses the pressing need to replace traditional power stations with green technology. This humorous and touching short film deals with the end of the fossil fuel industry and the rise of renewable (wind) energy.


IBM has been a green leader for more than three decades. During this time they have been recognized for their environmental efforts and in 2012, they received the European Union Code of Conduct for Data Centers Award in recognition of their long term efforts. IBM’s innovation in the corporate world includes some stellar examples of consumer education. The firm’s Smarter Planet Initiative encourages consumers to live a more sustainable life.


Samsung Electronics is actively involved in greening their management, products, processes, workplace, and communities. Their take-back and recycle program is a model that keeps e-waste out of landfills. Through the program, old products can be given back in stores and efficiently recycled. This is a critical initiative as the problem of e-waste is an every growing concern.


This energy efficiency giant is also a leader in social responsibility and sustainability. They are a model for their efforts to encourage employee volunteerism with over 20,000 Sony staff members involved in efforts to feed the hungry, build homes for the needy and clean waterways.

Vestergaard Frandsen

As reviewed in the film Carbon for Water (2012), Vestergaard Fandsen shows the life-changing effect of disease control with water filters in rural Western Kenya. The firm’s Carbon for Water project, which is funded by carbon credits, delivers safe water to 4.5m people in the region, improving the health and well-being of 900,000 families, slowing deforestation and cutting 2.4m tonnes of CO2 emissions each year.


Some companies like Veja are changing the traditional business paradigm altogether. Veja is an ethical footwear brand that has a ‘no advertising’ policy, the company communicates the environmental and social benefits of its products through a mix of PR, social media and events. The brand rewards workers fairly for their work, and uses sustainable materials and methods like real rubber, natural dyes and organically farmed cotton. Even their shipping is more sustainable as they emply boats rather than air freight. The company’s ethical values have succeeded in increasing sales more than 10 fold.


The German automaker is behind some of the greener cars on the market. Volkswagen’s holistic approach drives their concept of “thinking blue,” which is about both saving energy and living more efficiently. They offer the public a number of green tips in their‘ Think Blue Blog.”

Walt Disney

Walt Disney has more influence on children than any other company on earth. They are a sustainability leader through three core values: Act, Champion and Inspire. Act ethically and consider the consequences of your decisions on people and the planet. Champion happiness and well-being of kids and families. Inspire kids and families to make positive changes in the world that last.

Even some corporate citizens that have questionable records are getting serious about increasing their sustainability efforts. One such company is Apple. While they were previously the subject of widespread criticism, they are making significant inroads in their sustainability efforts which include going 100 percent renewable. With the hiring of former EPA chief Lisa Jackson in May, the company appears to be committed to improving its environmental record, “I wasn’t going to go anywhere that didn’t espouse those values,” Jackson recently told a crowd at GreenBiz.com’s VERGE conference in San Francisco.

Businesses worldwide are improving their environmental and social performances and educating people about sustainability in ways that inspire behavior change. Minimizing environmental impacts and being more socially responsible is also a matter of reducing costs and increasing profits. Such activities benefit a firm’s reputation and positions them to thrive as we become increasingly concerned about social and environmentally issues. Most importantly, such businesses are reducing their adverse impacts and providing a model for the world. It takes time and effort to become a green leader, but smart companies are making the investment and reaping lucrative dividends.

In a world where some corporations continue to ignore their social and environmental responsibilities, it is important to recognize responsible businesses for their groundbreaking leadership.
Richard Matthews is a consultant, eco-entrepreneur, green investor and author of numerous articles on sustainable positioning, eco-economics and enviro-politics. He is the owner of The Green Market Oracle, a leading sustainable business site and one of the Web’s most comprehensive resources on the business of the environment. Find The Green Market on Facebook and follow The Green Market’s twitter feed.

The post Recognizing Sustainability Leadership in Business appeared first on Global Warming is Real.

October 09 2013


Businesses Still Need to Stop Wasting Energy and Improve Efficiency

Businesses can do more to improve energy efficiency By Abbie Clarke

It wasn’t long ago that Forbes was reporting America as the worldwide leader in wasting energy. But that’s not to say other countries are doing much better in energy efficiency. We all play a part in this process; homeowners, business owners and corporations. Governments are working for change; in the US, there is the Alliance to Save Energy that recently released the Energy 2030 plan which aims to double US energy productivity, while in the UK there has been set energy efficiency targets  that have now been extended for energy intensive industries to 2023. But is enough being done for change? What role do businesses play in energy efficiency, and where can they still make improvements?

Where is energy still being wasted by businesses?

There has been a significant call for businesses to make changes in order to improve their energy efficiency and stop waste. The same issues are being raised: many businesses continue to leave computers and appliances on overnight; lights are being left on when not in use; heating and air-conditioning are still being improperly utilized; recycling of print cartridges and paper is still done through wasteful methods; and so on. To further emphasize this pint, half of energy used by UK businesses is wasted when employees aren’t working. Business energy efficiency should be an issue that relates to individuals from the top to the bottom, and yet it is an issue that continues to go round in circles. So, what needs to change?

Attitudes need to change

According to the DECC Public Attitudes Tracker quarterly survey, the number of people supporting renewable energy in the UK has risen to 82 percent. However, energy-wasting behaviors such as excessive water usage and not switching off lights continue, with only 26 percent saying that they give much thought to saving energy. Then again, this is not just homeowners; this is employees and businesses too. One way that attitudes can be changed is by setting an example; an example of how energy efficiency can work, an example of how stopping the waste of energy can actually save money. What seems to be missing is confidence that these targets set by government and these promises of improving the environment will make any difference for a business owner, or an employee, or a homeowner. But it rests on all our shoulders to inspire this confidence if we are going to stop wasting energy.

Business savings through energy efficiency

As mentioned above, confidence is important if energy efficiency targets are going to be met and actually have any effect. And even though many employers and employees remain unconvinced, there is the case for business energy efficiency. According to Energy Star, many organizations can make energy savings of around 2-10 percent through improved management. But, what many organizations fail to consider is that being energy efficient can actually save them money. Like most things in business once you take a closer look and start asking where improvements can be made, processes are able to be improved and the result is improved efficiency. This is no different for business energy efficiency, where it is often chances in outlook, behavior and procedures that make the difference.

In the long run, a business should aim to keep saving, to stop waste and to keep improving. Only then will we start to see real changes in energy efficiency.


This guest article is provided by Abbie Clarke who works with Find Energy Savings where you can find out more about the prevention of wasting energy and improving efficiency.

Image credit: Nkululeko Masondo, courtesy flickr


The post Businesses Still Need to Stop Wasting Energy and Improve Efficiency appeared first on Global Warming is Real.

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September 12 2013


How Environmentally Sustainable is Cloud Computing and Storage?

Is cloud computing as efficient and less carbon intensive as some claim?Cloud computing and storage is a fast growing industry that is helping to drive our economy forward, but is it a revolutionary sustainability game changer or a sad example of greenwash. The defining feature of the cloud is the fact that instead of relying on local servers, it uses a network of remote servers hosted on the Internet to store, manage, and process data. Fast data transfers and real time information updates are two of the reasons why so many see the benefits of moving to the cloud.

Growing demand

Cloud computing has seen steady growth and rapidly increasing demand. In 2005, investment in cloud computing accounted for almost $26 million, with only 5 cloud related investment deals. In 2009, cloud investments reached $375 million or 14 times the total amount invested just 4 years earlier. During this time, the number of deals grew from 5 to 70. According to Forrester, the cloud market was valued at $40.7 billion in 2010.

The cloud industry expects to grow to a $150 billion market by the end of 2013 and Pike is forecasting the market to be worth $210 billion by 2015. According to Forrester, the cloud computing market will top $241 billion by 2020. According to Verdantix companies plan to accelerate their adoption of cloud computing from 10 percent to 69 percent of their information technology spend by 2020.

The cloud is not just for large corporations, small and medium businesses (SMBs) are also seeing value in the cloud. A May 2013 Spiceworks report states that 61 percent of SMBs who responded to a survey are using cloud-based solutions today, with an additional 5 percent planning to add cloud services in the next six months. A total of 69 percent of SMBs with fewer than 20 employees and 55 percent of SMBs with 250 to 999 employees are using cloud-based applications today. North American SMBs are more likely to use cloud-based applications and services than countries in Europe, the Middle East and Africa.

The case for the cloud being environmentally sustainable

Many see the cloud as a key feature of IT environmental sustainability. Cloud infrastructure addresses two critical elements of a green IT approach: energy efficiency and resource efficiency.  As explained by BSR,

“Cloud services make a positive contribution to sustainability: The cloud encourages important clean-tech applications like smart grids and it also encourages consumers to use virtual services such as video streaming to replace resource-heavy physical products. The cloud also draws resources to where they are used most efficiently and its jobs tend to be cleaner and safer than those of more traditional industries.”

Saving energy, money, time, hardware and waste

The cloud saves energy and provides more efficient supplier management. Another of the cloud’s green attributes take the form of  “dematerializing” the economy which involves reducing the number of physical materials.

The cloud’s efficiency and scalability help reduce energy usage and trash. By reducing the need for hardware, companies can reduce costs and eliminate the need for maintenance and upgrades. The cloud offers cheaper running costs and more flexibility for businesses hoping to expand. The cloud is ideal for businesses with time sensitive data, and it significantly reduces computing time and expenses. The cloud also increases productivity through its ability to accommodate online collaboration that reduces the need for face to face meetings.

Many of the firms interviewed by Verdantix reported cost savings as a primary motivator for adopting the cloud, with anticipated cost reductions as high as 40 to 50 percent. According to a report by the Carbon Disclosure Project (CDP) titled Cloud Computing: The IT Solution for the 21st Century, cloud computing can save U.S. Companies $12 billion.  A 2011 Pike Research report titled “Cloud Computing Energy Efficiency,” said data center energy consumption will drop by 31 percent from 2010 to 2020 due to the continued adoption of cloud computing and other virtualized data options.

The technological reason for these energy savings is that the cloud uses energy in a more streamlined and efficient way than traditional, in-house data centers. Cloud computing  uses multi-tenant architecture and this tends to be more efficient than the typical, single-tenant, statically-allocated data centers.

Carbon reduction

The cloud reduces carbon emissions through minimized energy requirements. According to the CDP report, offsite servers have the potential to prevent 85.7 million metric tons of annual carbon emissions by 2020.

Research carried out by Google suggested that businesses could save around 60-85 percent on their energy costs simply by switching to a cloud facility. The environmental impact of these substantial reductions in energy are significant.

One study surveying the clients of Salesforce, a fast-growing cloud computing giant, suggested carbon reductions of 95 percent compared to companies with servers on their premises.

“The Salesforce community saved an estimated 170,900 tons of carbon in 2010—the equivalent of taking 37,000 cars off the road, or avoiding the consumption of 19.5 million gallons of gas.” said Marc Benioff, Salesforce’s chairman and CEO.

A 2010 study from Accenture, Microsoft and WSP Environment and Energy reported a huge impact of the cloud on CO2 emissions. They found out that businesses with systems and applications on the cloud could reduce per-user carbon footprint by 30 percent for large companies and 90 percent for small businesses.

Cloud providers are getting even more efficient with companies like Cheeky Munkey further diminishing environmental impacts by using servers designed to use hardware as efficiently as possible, driving down energy resource and also keeping costs low.


The cloud industry has also been called secretive, slow to change its practices, and overly optimistic in its environmental assessments.  The massive energy requirement of cloud computing can create environmental problems.  According to a 2012 report in the New York Times, data centers use 30 billion watts of electricity per year globally and the U.S. is responsible for one-third of that amount (10 billion watts). A  Gartner report indicated that the IT industry is responsible for as much greenhouse gas generation as the aviation industry (2 percent of the world’s carbon emissions). Just one of these massive server farms can consume the energy equivalent of 180 000 homes.

According to a McKinsey & Company report commissioned by the Times, between 6 and 12 percent of that energy powers actual computations; the rest keeps servers running in case of a surge or crash. “This is an industry dirty secret,” an anonymous executive told the Times. However, cloud supporters counter that this may be better understood as a necessary evil if data companies are to ensure that they are able to provide reliable service at all times.

Greenpeace has published a report, “A Clean Energy Road Map for Apple,” that follows up on the organization’s April “How Clean is Your Cloud?” report. These studies indicate that many cloud providers use energy sources that are neither clean nor sustainable.

The Greenpeace analysis showed that tech companies like Akamai and Yahoo! are the most environment-friendly while companies like Amazon, Apple and Microsoft each rely heavily on power from fossil fuels. Cloud computing is almost directly responsible for the carbon intensity increase at Apple, which gets 60 percent of its power from coal. Although Apple is increasing the amount of renewable energy used to power its cloud computing, the company has been criticized by Greenpeace for moving slowly.  In May 2013, Apple said that its North Carolina data center will be exclusively reliant on renewable power by year’s end, and that all three of its major data centers will be coal-free by the end of this year.


Despite all of this convincing data, it is important to understand that saving energy does not always mean that you are reducing your GHG emissions. To be environmentally sustainable these centers must draw their power from renewable sources of energy. The location of cloud servers is the key issue that determines whether this is a truly sustainable option. Ideally, cloud computing centers should be located in places where the grid portfolio is clean. (It would be even better if these data centers generated power themselves from renewable sources.)

Google has been a major investor in renewables and it is using that energy to power its own business. To illustrate the point, Google recently entered into two 20-year power purchase agreements for more than 100 megawatts from a wind energy developer located in Iowa and Oklahoma, states where the company operates large data centers. Google has also launched Google Energy, a subsidiary that allows it to act like a utility that can buy and sell electricity onto the grid.

Yahoo and Facebook have also made strides by choosing to locate to sites where they could secure large amounts of existing hydro power. Yahoo set up a data center in Lockport, N.Y., and Facebook built an operation in Lulea, Sweden.

Continually striving for efficiency enhancements is another way to make the cloud greener. Cloud companies can also leverage their buying power to encourage policy makers to increase the availability of cleaner sources of energy. Another solution involves greater carbon transparency for cloud computing providers.

There are a number of new cloud computing centers that are helping businesses move into the cloud in a truly sustainable fashion. Two stellar examples can be found in Iceland. Green Earth Data and GreenQloud both offer 100 percent renewable energy as they draw their power from geothermal and hydropower resources. GreenQloud claims its commercial cloud services are greener, cheaper, and better.


The keys to a sustainable cloud are sourcing renewable energy and improving energy efficiency.  If the cloud is located in areas that source renewable power, cloud computing can not only save billions of dollars in energy costs it can also reduce carbon emissions by millions of metric tons.

The cloud not only allows firms to reduce the energy consumption and minimize their environmental impact, it also increases capacity and performance. While the cloud can be a great way to save energy and reduce greenhouse gas emissions, as with so many other industries, scale drives efficiency. Meaning that when it comes to sustainability, bigger can often be more efficient. For example, by designing its own servers and data centers, Google has reduced costs and saved over $1 billion, diminished its energy usage and lowered it emissions profile.

As explained by CDP executive chairman Paul Dickinson, “The carbon emissions-reducing potential of cloud computing is a thrilling breakthrough, allowing companies to maximize performance, drive down costs, reduce inefficiency and minimize energy use – and therefore carbon emissions – all at the same time.”

The growth of efficient cloud services powered by renewable energy is a game changer that can be a truly revolutionary force in efforts to forge a more productive and sustainable economy.
Richard Matthews is a consultant, eco-entrepreneur, green investor and author of numerous articles on sustainable positioning, eco-economics and enviro-politics. He is the owner of The Green Market Oracle, a leading sustainable business site and one of the Web’s most comprehensive resources on the business of the environment. Find The Green Market on Facebook and follow The Green Market’s twitter feed.

Image credit: Henrik Bennetsen, courtesy flickr

The post How Environmentally Sustainable is Cloud Computing and Storage? appeared first on Global Warming is Real.

May 30 2013


Best Practices in Sustainability: Employee Engagement and Reporting

Sustainable business best practices: the triple bottom lineIt is widely understood that adopting best practices in sustainability can offer a significant competitive advantage. There is ample incentive to get on board. In 2012, sales of sustainable goods and services reached $1 trillion globally and in 2013, it may double to reach $2 trillion. As early as 2017, the sustainable economy could be worth $10 trillion in annual global revenue.

Almost three out of four Americans now believe that climate change is real and they want companies to do something about it. The implementation of best practice campaigns can help companies to respond to consumer demand and capitalize on the rapidly growing sustainability market.

You can find sustainable best practices everywhere, from tourism to IT, from building to health care. You can even find it where it seems out of place, as in the mining sector or in the shale gas industry.  The words “best practice” are everywhere and they are often used inappropriately. A study on the most overused buzzwords showed that in 2010, “best practice” was used more than 4,600 times in industry press releases.

The question is what constitutes authentic best practice when it comes to sustainability?

As reviewed in the Green Market Oracle, a sustainable best practice campaign involves a comprehensive and holistic approach encompassing everything a business does. Although standardized sustainable best practices are still coalescing, they tend to address the following five areas:

  1. Air
    Monitor and manage emissions, set targets for emissions reductions. Reduce impact on indoor air quality.
  2. Energy
    Monitor and reduce energy consumption. Implement energy efficiency programs. Develop energy reduction targets for IT, manufacturing, lighting, heating and cooling.
  3. Transportation
    Track the mileage of all company vehicles. Tracking mileage and examining your travel routes can help you better understand your fuel usage and find more expedient routes.
  4. Water
    Monitor water consumption and develop strategies for water reduction. Effective strategies can start with something as simple as retrofitted faucets with low-flow aerators.
  5. Waste and Recycling
    Monitor waste and develop a strategy for waste reduction and recycling. Knowing the waste stream makes it easier to identify targets for waste reduction. Keep a log tracking the trash. Include a recycling program with a good plan including logistics that detail how recycled materials will be collected and stored.

Most commonly, these issues are addressed with the help of an internally selected group of dedicated sustainability managers representing different departments. This group is commonly referred to as a Green Team.

Three keys to success

Some noteworthy features of successful sustainability best practices campaigns are found in a McKinsey & Company study. This study was based on a July 2011 online survey of over 3200 executives. It identified best practices for setting and managing sustainability goals. The three features that stood out are:

  • Ensuring clear accountability for sustainability performance
  • Tying compensation to achievement of sustainability goals
  • Reviewing sustainability key performance indicators

There are two fundamental components which are absolutely essential to almost all sustainable best practice campaigns. They are employee engagement and reporting.

Employee Engagement

There is an art to securing the willing participation of employees. It is important to get employees involved so that they can effectively implement the campaign. The first step to engaging employees in sustainability involves setting targets. For employees to deliver, they must know what is being asked of them. This means developing clear strategic objectives and then crafting actionable plans to achieve those objectives.

It is important to provide incentives for participation from the inception. Establish recognition and/or reward programs for employees who contribute to the company’s sustainability initiatives. Publicize the campaign and schedule an inaugural event.

Use coordinated communications to promote the program, inspire employees and motivate change. Include internal signage and online communications educating employees about relevant sustainability concerns. Focus on educational efforts that help employees understand how their individual actions can make a positive impact on the organization.

Empower people at the local level. Provide opportunities for employees to participate and collaborate. While everyone within an organization needs to get involved, green programs work best if they are voluntary. Be open and transparent about the progress on individual sustainability projects. Develop interactive scorecards and encourage friendly competition between offices and regions.


Corporations are more vulnerable than ever to public scrutiny. Responsible conduct and transparent disclosure are the best ways to handle the risks associated with this new reality. Measuring performance is essential both as an internal metric assessing success and as an objective means of communicating with those outside of an organization.

It is imperative to develop metrics that track and monitor performance as well as identify and respond to challenges, opportunities and threats. Effective reporting commonly depends on technological tools to collect data and generate reliable metrics.

These reports must be able to simultaneously speak to the concerns of employees, suppliers and investors.

According to Pure Strategies the following approaches produce the best results:

  • Engage through storytelling: In addition to facts and figures people want to meet key players and follow the story behind their achievements.
  • Report progress against goals in a multi-year format: Multi-year charts are necessary as are any explanations of missed targets or unusual performance.
  • Push the transparency envelope:  Honestly explain your approach and reveal what worked well and what did not. Show how you will learn from your experience and do things better.
  • Follow the Global Reporting Initiative (GRI) standard: This is increasingly the standard for sustainability reporting. However, even small business can consider a “GRI-inspired” report.
  • Sustainability report formats: Supplement paper reports with interactive, web-based content, videos, social media, games, apps and any format that will allow you to convey your message.

Developing and implementing a sustainability best practice campaign can be onerous. However, businesses that succeed in engaging employees and providing cogent reporting support their brand, improve morale while developing a productive and collaborative culture. A well executed campaign can offer tremendous benefits that encompass the triple bottom line of people, planet and profits.
Richard Matthews is a consultant, eco-entrepreneur, green investor and author of numerous articles on sustainable positioning, eco-economics and enviro-politics. He is the owner of The Green Market Oracle, a leading sustainable business site and one of the Web’s most comprehensive resources on the business of the environment. Find The Green Market on Facebook and follow The Green Market’s twitter feed.

The post Best Practices in Sustainability: Employee Engagement and Reporting appeared first on Global Warming is Real.

May 09 2012


European Elections and Sustainable Development in America

European voters rejected austerity in favor of growth. What will that mean for sustainable development in the US?In Europe, voters have chosen growth over austerity and this has implications for the U.S. economy and sustainable development. The Greek and French electorate’s rejection of austerity will have a dramatic effect on European spending, including investments in sustainability. These changes can also be expected to reverberate across the Atlantic.

In France, Francois Hollande’s presidential victory has derailed Nicholas Sarkozy’s austerity policies and in Greece, the parties supporting the international rescue package have lost control of parliament. In both countries, voters decisively said no to austerity and yes to growth.

France and Greece Choose Growth over Austerity

Both France and Greece appear to be doing a 180 on austerity. Hollande has been critical of the austerity policies central to European bailout deals. He promises to ease austerity measures and increase taxation on the wealthy. Hollande has pledged to renegotiate the European fiscal pact that was signed in December 2011 and he wants to issue common European bonds to finance growth through investment in sectors like renewable energy.

Investment in renewable energy is only one of several commitments that have pleased France’s Green Party (which received 2 percent of the French vote). During the campaign, Hollande promised to diversify France’s energy, including promises to cut the country’s nuclear dependence in half by 2025. He also vowed to increase renewable energy and respect France’s international engagements to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. This will help France reach and perhaps even surpass its EU-backed sustainability goals of 20 percent by 2020. Greenpeace France notes that the newly elected President of France has called for the EU to increase its GHG emissions target to 30 percent by 2020.

Prior to the election, France’s right leaning Sarkozy government was criticized for doing little for the environment. In an October, 2011 article published in the French daily Le Monde, MPs from the “ecological” wing of the Socialist party derided the center-right’s environmental record. They chided the “environmental passivity of the right” saying that after 10 years of leadership, “France invests nine times less than Germany and five times less than China in clean energy.”  They further drew attention to the fact that there are no French businesses among the top 10 producers of wind turbines or photovoltaic panels. They also pointed out that in terms of wind production per inhabitant, France was in thirteenth place in Europe and the country had no offshore wind developments.

The fate of Greece is much less certain. The results of Greek parliamentary elections are inconclusive, fueling fear that Greece will become the first developed nation to default on its debt.

If a coalition government cannot be formed, Greece will go back to the voters some time in June, but this will be too late for the bailout package being offered by the EU. If Greek political leaders cannot form a government, the country will default on its debt and cease to be part of the EU. This will have a calamitous impact on the economy of the entire continent and the wider world. Whatever the future holds, it is now clear that Greeks have refused austerity.


All of this intrigue takes place just ahead of the Rio+20 conference, which will take place on June 20 – 22, 2012. This is the fourth major summit on sustainable development since 1972. The summit brings together at least 100 global leaders and 50,000 participants from around the world, including corporate executives and representatives of various social movements. Participants will focus on growth, and address specific concerns as they relate to oceans, food, energy, biodiversity and climate. The summit aims to find ways to support sustainable development.

U.N. Secretary General Bank Ki Moon wants to bring sustainable energy to even the most remote corners of the planet and 3,000 scientists will present a new science for Planet Earth at Rio 20 known as the State of the Planet Declaration.

However, some of Europe’s key players will not be attending the Rio Conference. German Chancellor Angela Merkel will not attend nor will British Prime Minister David Cameron. Despite rearranging the summit’s dates so they would not coincide with Queen Elizabeth II’s Diamond Jubilee celebrations, Cameron announced he will not be attending Rio. US President Barack Obama is also likely to stay on the campaign trail rather than go to Rio.

Whatever happens in Rio, the elections in Europe have changed the political map and this has implications for the forthcoming American election.

Sustainable Development in America

Austerity in Europe was not good for the growth of sustainability or the American economy and social unrest born of economic hardship compounded the problem. The end of austerity is good news for advocates of sustainable development and those who want to see more growth in the American economy.

In Europe, government investment to stimulate growth will benefit the American economy. It may also make it easier for the Obama administration to increase its commitment to sustainable development. As should be obvious to all with even a passing interest in American politics, when it comes to sustainable development, the Democrats are the only game in town.

Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney has an economic strategy that has austerity at its heart. Events in Europe may encourage Americans to question the Republican vision for America. According to the European narrative, spending cuts further slow the economy and actually increase debt. This puts Republicans squarely at odds with the new economics sweeping across Europe.

As stated by Richard Eskow, a senior fellow at the liberal Campaign for America’s Future, this should bode well for the Democrats:

“This should be the Democrats’ moment, a time to make political gains in the most honorable way possible: by fighting for what’s right. Today’s radical Republicans want to destroy government and slash the very spending that’s needed to rescue the economy. The GOP is even rejecting the common sense spending on roads and bridges embraced by past Republicans from Dwight D. Eisenhower to George W. Bush. As austerity measures eviscerate Europe’s economy and undermine the political popularity of its leadership, this should be the Democrats’ finest hour. Unfortunately, too many Democratic leaders have preferred to echo the austerity rhetoric of their Republican opponents — and of Europe’s embattled leaders. The president’s last debt deal with John Boehner was a milder version of European austerity, and it slowed our country’s tentative growth. And yet he’s reportedly pushing for another “Grand Bargain,” leaving him with a muddled economic message, and Americans in a prolonged state of fear.”

There is reason to believe that Americans may support government spending at least until there is stronger growth and more jobs. Americans may very well follow the French and the Greeks who have chosen to abandon austerity in favor of growth.

The near term fate of sustainable development hinges on governments adopting a policy of growth rather than a policy focused on austerity.
Richard Matthews is a consultant, eco-entrepreneur, green investor and author of numerous articles on sustainable positioning, eco-economics and enviro-politics. He is the owner of THE GREEN MARKET, a leading sustainable business blog and one of the Web’s most comprehensive resources on the business of the environment. Find The Green Market on Facebook and follow The Green Market’s twitter feed.

Image credit: National Post/Getty Images

May 02 2012


Is Sustainable Development Viable?

Aspects of strategic and coordinated action for sustainable development:Although it is clear that growth within the current economic paradigm is environmentally unsustainable, it is less clear whether the adoption of sustainable development can save our planet from environmental collapse. Countries are aggressively trying to stimulate their economies and create new jobs while at the same time, it is becoming increasingly obvious that we urgently need to address a range of far-reaching environmental problems.

In 2011 the International Resource Panel, hosted by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), warned that by 2050, the human race could be devouring 140 billion tons of minerals, ores, fossil fuels and biomass per year – three times its current rate of consumption. The report demonstrated that most of this consumption comes from the developed world (up to 40 or more tons per person in some developed countries compared to an average of four tons per year for people in places like India).

Some believe that sustainable development could bring about meaningful change. Sustainable development focuses on reducing the amount of required resources through improved economic management, product design, and technology. Environmental sustainability emulates the biosphere and functions as part of the ecosystem. This means being efficient, adapting to local conditions and using sources of energy which are renewable. At its best, sustainability incorporates the concept of cradle-to-cradle design, which factors the entire life cycle.

Sustainable development supports economic growth. The Brundtland Report argued that economic growth was necessary for poorer nations to meet their needs; they also used this argument to support economic growth in all nations.

Criticisms of sustainable development

For many people concerned about ecological degradation, growth is an environmental anathema and sustainable development does not make sense. This idea was elaborated by Michael Redclift in his 2005 paper “Sustainable Development (1987–2005): an Oxymoron Comes of Age.”

A 1993 paper by Herman E. Daly and Kenneth N. Townsend argue that it is impossible for the world economy to grow its way out of poverty and environmental degradation. According to these authors, the term “sustainable growth”, when applied to the economy, is a “bad oxymoron.” The term sustainable development makes sense for the economy only if it is understood as development without growth. “To delude ourselves into believing that growth is still possible and desirable if only we label it “sustainable” or color it “green” will just delay the inevitable transition and make it more painful.” The authors advocate a policy for the U.S. and other industrialized countries that prevent growth by taxing resource extraction, especially energy, very heavily.

Environmental sustainability precludes fossil fuels

Sustainable economic growth is utterly impossible as long as oil, coal and natural gas provide nearly 88 percent of the world’s energy needs. According to EIA (the US Energy Information Administration), total world consumption of marketed energy will increase by 49 percent between 2007 to 2035. The International Energy Agency predicted that Chinese energy demand would soar 75 percent by 2035, accounting for more than a third of the growth in global consumption.

The most egregious source of energy is coal, in India, more than 50% of commercial energy demand is met with coal and according to 2008 statistics, coal accounts for 71 percent of China’s energy mix. The US is not much better with 23 percent of its total energy demand being met with coal. Economic growth that includes fossil fuels precludes the possibility of a livable planet.

Incorporating the environment into the economic system

For development to be truly sustainable, it must balance human welfare with the welfare of the planet. Sustainable development can avoid environmental degradation by integrating the environment into the economic system. Environmental economists argue that environmental degradation is a function of the failure of the market system to put a value on the environment.

Cost-benefit analysis (CBA) and economic instruments offer a couple of ways in which environmental values could be incorporated into economic activities. Economic instruments include taxes and charges on polluters that aim to internalize environmental costs into the decisions of companies and individuals. This provides an incentive to curtail environmental degradation.

There are a number of other ways the environment could be factored into our economic decision-making. Measuring environmental damage includes the value of earnings lost through health problems associated with pollution. It also includes health care and the costs associated with decreased agricultural yields.

In such a system, valuing the environment must account for future generations of humans and other species. The cost of ecological destruction must be prohibitive and not limited to monetary costs. This translates to criminal sanctions including jail terms.

Can technology save us?

Technology is an important adjunct of sustainable development. Improving technology makes growth and environmental sustainability compatible. According to the Council of Academies of Engineering and Technological Sciences, economic growth can be made compatible with environmental enhancement, but “technologies affecting all societal activities must reflect the goals of sustainable economic development.”

Environmentalists Winin Pereira and Jeremy Seabrook (1991) point out that a high of living standard is unsustainable. They say: “

“Economic growth can be made compatible with environmental enhancement only if the emission of pollution is less than that which can be assimilated and transformed by the natural environment. In order for resources to be conserved, all articles must be manufactured so as to be fully recyclable. Further, they must be manufactured, transported, used, and recycled with energy from renewable sources only.”

The apparent conflict between growth and environmental sustainability may be at least partially addressed by new technological developments. A good example comes from recent advances in catalytic science.

“With the recent advent of molecular design techniques, the modernized form of this broadly applicable technological tool has the potential to change the face of the four fundamental needs of humanity–health care, food supply, energy, and materials. This can be done in a way that provides a path to environmentally sustainable development for all citizens of the planet.”

Ecological economics and decoupling

While conventional economics is concerned largely with economic growth and the efficient allocation of resources, ecological economics has the explicit goal of sustainable scale (rather than continual growth), fair distribution and efficient allocation.

The World Business Council for Sustainable Development states that “business cannot succeed in societies that fail,” and societies that do not reduce their resource intensity are doomed to fail.

Ecological economics must reach far beyond the understanding of conventional economics and focus on people and nature.

In economic and environmental fields, the term decoupling is used to refer to the ability of an economy to grow without incurring corresponding increases in environmental pressure. An economy that is able to sustain GDP growth without having a negative impact on the environment is said to be decoupled.

We now have a leadership competency model for sustainability. The expansion of sustainable business opportunities can contribute to job creation.

Innovative economics internalizing ecosystems

There is no single economic answer to the environmental crisis we face. The closest thing we have to a useful approach is cultivating pragmatic innovation. Going forward, our economies must constantly adapt to meet present and future needs.

While some would like to do away with the concept of profit, this may not produce the results they seek.  Peter Drucker said that “profit for a company is like oxygen for a person. If you don’t have it, you’re out of the game. But if you think your life is about breathing you’re really missing something.”

From this standpoint, a business should aim to make a profit to ensure it is financially sustainable, but this should not be at the expense of the planet or the life forms that inhabit it.

We cannot continue to treat ecosystems as economic externalities. Conservation of resources is best served by putting a price on natural systems so that they are not overused and degraded. Internalizing these externalities entails using market strategies like ecotaxes and incentives, tradeable permits for carbon, and the encouragement of payment for ecosystem services.

Europe 2020

Europe 2020 is the EU’s sustainable development growth strategy. The EU wants to become a smart, sustainable and inclusive economy with high levels of employment, productivity and social cohesion.

Concretely, the Union has set five ambitious objectives – on employment, innovation, education, social inclusion and climate/energy – to be reached by 2020. This includes building a more competitive low-carbon economy that makes efficient, sustainable use of resources. It also involves protecting the environment, reducing emissions and preventing biodiversity loss.

The EU intends to boost sustainable growth through resource-efficiency in Europe. Economic growth will be decoupled from resource and energy use by:

  • reducing CO2 emissions
  • promoting greater energy security.
  • reducing the resource intensity of what we use and consume

ADB strategy 2020

ADB Strategy 2020 is Asia’s sustainable development growth strategy. ADB’s efforts in greening economic growth aim at promoting environmentally sustainable and inclusive growth while addressing climate change.

ADB is committed to doing a better job of managing biodiversity and natural resources. They realize that large-scale ecosystems are central to the future well-being of Asia-Pacific. They will focus on national leadership, innovative partnerships and integrated approaches.

ADB’s climate change program focuses on five region-wide priorities: (i) expanding the use of clean energy; (ii) encouraging sustainable transport and urban development; (iii) managing land use and forests for carbon sequestration; (iv) promoting climate-resilient development; and (v) strengthening related policies and institutions.

A range of approaches are necessary, including regulations, market-based instruments, voluntary schemes, and information disclosure. Environmental impact assessment and social safeguards processes are also important. In total, it is estimated that it will cost 8 trillion dollars in infrastructure investment to get to where they need to be.

Recognizing that many of the region’s critical ecosystems transcend political boundaries and that several pollution issues have a transboundary nature, governance arrangements at the regional and subregional level are also increasingly becoming a necessity.

This agenda is generally consistent with the green economy and green growth concepts as discussed in the Rio+20 process.

The Rio+ 20 Conference on Sustainable Development

The Rio+ 20 Conference on Sustainable Development provides a strategic opportunity for the global community to take stock of the current status of the environment and its links with supporting inclusive economic growth and poverty reduction.

The UNCSD will need to develop a new agreed vision and a set of solutions and mechanisms that can support and finance inclusive and environmentally sustainable growth. It is also important to develop mechanisms using innovative approaches that leverage both public financial resources and the private sector.  To achieve this goal, there will need to be incentives to help shift economies to a sustainable path. This may include removing harmful subsidies and providing tax breaks and other incentives.

Governments will need to work together in support of strengthening the environmentally advantageous technologies of developing nations. This includes incentives such as market-opening measures, intellectual-property protection, support for universities and other research institutions.

Governments will also have to pursue arrangements for monitoring and assessing environmental conditions and their economic implications.

Sustainable Development is an Ethical and Social Issue

There are important ethical and political and social dimensions associated with sustainable development. Government incentives, market based mechanisms and even punitive measures are not adequate in and of themselves. Incorporating environmental sustainability on a broad scale is also a matter of cultural and social change. Ultimately, it reflects a dramatically transformed value system which acknowledges the overarching value of the natural world.

One need only look at the domestic unrest in so many European countries to realize that growth (or the lack thereof) is also a social issue. As William Rees has said: “economic growth is a major instrument of social policy. By sustaining hope for improvement, it relieves the pressure for policies aimed at more equitable distribution of wealth.”

We need to develop new ethics and new forms of social decision-making that integrate the environment. We also need incentives to stimulate technological innovation.

It is not certain that sustainable development will succeed, but it may be the best chance we have not only to save our economies but to save our planet from an environmental apocalypse.

Richard Matthews is a consultant, eco-entrepreneur, green investor and author of numerous articles on sustainable positioning, eco-economics and enviro-politics. He is the owner of THE GREEN MARKET, a leading sustainable business blog and one of the Web’s most comprehensive resources on the business of the environment. Find The Green Market on Facebook and follow The Green Market’s twitter feed.

October 12 2011


US Denial versus European and Asian Sustainable Growth

The US continues to bury their head in the sand about climate changeWhile much of the rest of the world seems to see the dangers of climate change, many Americans appear to be woefully oblivious. Embracing a green, low-carbon economy is a sustainable way of dealing with the problems of resource depletion, economic uncertainty and climate change.

Europeans understand the severity of the threat posed by climate change far better than Americans. An October 2011, Eurobarometer poll found that Europeans consider global warming to be one of the world’s most serious problems. According to this poll, 68% of Europeans rate climate change as a “very serious” problem. One-fifth of Europeans indicated that climate change is the single most serious problem. Only poverty is considered a more serious problem than climate change, followed by the current economic crisis. (In fact the poor are the ones who will be most affected by climate change and the overwhelming costs of climate change make it a pressing economic issue).

As reviewed in an Eco-Business article, the Green Growth Forum, held in Ha Noi on October 4, 2011, was part of an Asia-Europe Meeting (ASEM) initiative where 180 European and Asian delegates shared their experiences on incorporating green growth models.Speaking at the forum, the Vietnamese Deputy Prime Minister Vu Van Ninh said that green growth not only served as a vehicle to foster global economic growth and recovery, but also as a tool to implement sustainable development based on social and environmental protection.

Miyon Lee, director general of the International Co-operation Team of the Presidential Committee on Green Growth in South Korea, said that all countries had a responsibility to develop green growth policies before it is too late.

The Eurozone has their green priorities in order, and increasingly, so does Asia, but America remains woefully behind in sustainability. European and Asian nations understand that economic concerns do not trump environmental concerns. However, in America, economic growth takes precedence over climate change. Climate change consistently ranks near the bottom on the list of Americans’ concerns. As stated in Roger Pielke Jr.’s “Iron Law” of climate policy, “When policies on emissions reductions collide with policies focused on economic growth, economic growth will win out every time.”

If we do not change our ways, economic growth will evaporate, taking jobs with it. Yet somehow, a small group of corporate interests have managed to introduce an element of doubt into the debate causing many Americans to buy into misinformation rather than subscribe to the scientific evidence. This is a travesty, not just of science, but of common sense.

Economic growth is not incompatible with managing climate change. As stated in a Treehugger article, “Europeans understand this better than Americans, and have managed to not only recognize the threat, but to reduce emissions while growing their economy.”

All around the world, people are beginning to develop national and regional strategies to minimize their impact on the earth. In the U.S., corporate interests beholden to the old energy economy have successfully resisted efforts to save the economy, the planet and its inhabitants.

If senior Asian and European officials can work on ways of transitioning economies from a ‘grow first, clean up later’ approach toward a greener development path, why can’t America?

It is a miscarriage of reason that in the U.S., short term economic issues are being used to justify ongoing environmental genocide.


Richard Matthews is a consultant, eco-entrepreneur, green investor and author of numerous articles on sustainable positioning, eco-economics and enviro-politics. He is the owner of THE GREEN MARKET, a leading sustainable business blog and one of the Web’s most comprehensive resources on the business of the environment. Find The Green Market on Facebook and follow The Green Market’s twitter feed.

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March 17 2011


Rapanui …a company to cheer about!!

  Rapanui is about making cool eco-fashion for young people; that means clothing that is eco-friendly, ethical and sustainable: Made from natural organic fabrics in a Fairwear Foundation audited, wind powered factory.   Rapanui has developed a unique traceability tool and eco labelling system which allows visitors to their site to find out exactly where [...]

October 05 2010


Are Companies Doing Enough to be Green? Take the Survey

Are companies doing enough to limit their environmental impact? Take the survey.What do IBM, Whole Foods, Walmart, Patagonia, and Pepsi have in common? According to Stephen Jannise, writing in SoftwareAdvice.com, they are all teaching important lessons on how businesses can become “greener” and more sustainable.

Walmart, you ask? You might be surprised. Find out the examples these companies are setting, and take a survey on how important the “green-ness” of a company is in your purchasing decisions, and if you think business is doing enough limit their environmental impact.

February 11 2010


December 22 2009


Help for Green-Minded Shoppers

An advocacy group scores companies on their environmental track record.
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