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What is Green Commerce...or a Green Business...or Green Industry? Help!

When asked, most people say that blue is their favorite color, but you’d never know it from the green that’s everywhere. From multi-national corporations to the corner juice bar, “Green” has become the new go-to marketing adjective, as everyone wants to be perceived as environmentally-friendly, eco-conscious, and putting the planet ahead of profits.  

You know that hippie aunt you have...the one who wears all the flowy hemp clothing and crystals and brings the brown rice flour “desert” to Thanksgiving? Well now everybody with something to sell doesn't simply want her as a customer...they want to be her. Um, not so fast. 

Green Business Defined

According to the world’s absolute authority on everything (you know, Wikipedia)…

A sustainable business, or a green business, is an enterprise that has minimal negative impact or potentially a positive effect on the global or local environment, community, society, or economy—a business that strives to meet the triple bottom line (an accounting framework with three parts: social, environmental--or ecological--and financial). Often, sustainable businesses have progressive environmental and human rights policies.

In general, business is described as green if it matches the following four criteria:

  1. It incorporates principles of sustainability into each of its business decisions.

  2. It supplies environmentally friendly products or services that replaces demand for nongreen products and/or services.

  3. It is greener than traditional competition.

  4. It has made an enduring commitment to environmental principles in its business operations.

As an example, let’s take the meat-alternative Beyond Burger. Meat “substitutes” have come a long way in the last decade. But if they’re made in a factory, can the Beyond Burger be a “greener” business than making a traditional beef burger with its origins on a farm? Well, according to Anna Starostinetskaya in her article for VegNews... 

When it comes to the Beyond Burger, a Life Cycle Analysis (LCA) conducted by the University of Michigan compared the environmental impact of the plant-based burger to a quarter pound beef burger and found that the Beyond Burger used 99 percent less water, 93 percent less land, and 43 percent less energy while emitting 90 percent fewer greenhouse gases than its animal-derived counterpart. 

That feels pretty green to us, and all it took was an Internet search to see if Beyond Burger deserved the claims they make on their site. They do. But keep in mind that lots of dirty companies and industries talk the talk, but don’t back it up. 

It Ain’t Easy being Green - Beware of Greenwashing!

Greenwashing is when a company puts out misleading, exaggerated, untruthful, or only partially truthful information and claims in order to appear environmentally friendly. But you’re too smart for that, so do your research and look beyond the buzzwords. For instance, when it comes to Ando’s neck of the woods—banking--certain platforms are big talkers, trying hard to make you think they’re “green,” but closer examination reveals otherwise. According to Ando founder JP McNeill, “100% of Ando’s customer account balances are invested solely in green projects and companies dedicated to reducing carbon and fighting climate change. In comparison, other companies say they won’t put customer funds with banks that invest in the fossil fuel industry—that's a far cry from our level of commitment.  Sure, that approach avoids investments in fossil fuels, but Ando not only does that but also directs dollars to where they are needed most – exclusively green investments.” 

The coal industry has adopted the term “Clean Coal” to describe a new approach to processing one of the dirtiest fossil fuels on Earth. That is Greenwashing with a capital G, as coal...no matter how you process it...is poison for atmosphere. It was in the 18th century when the mining industry started, and remains so today.  

So What Then Are Greening Companies?

This is kind of funny, or at least it would be if the stakes weren’t so high. When you take a tour of British Petroleum’s website, you come to a page that discusses “Greening” companies. 

Greening companies are companies that are not lower carbon today but are serious about getting there. These are companies that have credible plans to transform and become greener. 

For starters, let’s not forget that BP was responsible for one of the most tragic environmental disasters in human history. And while we’re all for giving an A for effort, environmental scientists all over the world are all but screaming at the top of their lungs that we have maybe 10 years to get the environment on track or we will pass the point of no return...the die will have been cast and we’ll have to sleep in the bed we’ve made (though in this case it’ll be more like a coffin). 

What does “serious” about getting to lower carbon mean, and what is a “credible” plan? Make no mistake that this whole “greening” nonsense is largely nothing more than using language to obscure that too many companies aren’t doing anything green at all, but want you to grant them absolution for their good intentions. Don’t fall for it.  

The Future of Green Business

The good news is that as prevalent as Greenwashing and Greening are, there are far more companies finally realizing that it serves their bottom line to get on the bandwagon and start genuinely aligning their business plan with environmentally-conscious objectives. According to an article on BusinessWire.com:

  • 75% of Millennials are willing to pay more for an environmentally sustainable product, compared to 63% of Gen Z, 64% of Gen X, and 57% of Boomers.

  • 77% of Americans are concerned about the environmental impact of products they buy.

  • 76% of Americans would switch their preferred packaged goods brand if they were offsetting carbon emissions. 74% would switch gasoline brands in the same situation.

When companies appeal to their “enlightened self-interest", everybody wins. So maybe your hippie aunt was right after all? Maybe we should all get some hemp robes...maybe the brown rice flour desert is tasty? OK, let’s not go that far.

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