January 30, 2007

Jumbo Shrimp

The constant media attention and announcements from big business on greening initiatives has me dizzy, and a bit philosophical…

Not that long ago the idea of “green business” seemed oxymoronic — like jumbo shrimp. How could you be in favor of business doing well and want a safe, healthy environment? But times are changing quickly. Little cracks in the dam started appearing years ago of course — from the first painful, and failed, attempts to launch green products in light bulbs or cars, to watershed moments like BP’s Lord John Browne admitting that climate change is real. But even with the announcements of late, the real mainstream pursuit of business practices that are gold and green is in many ways just beginning.

2005 may go down as a pivotal year — a time when both GE and Wal-Mart announced significant environmental initiatives. Apparently, no longer does a company need to be privately held (Ben & Jerry’s originally), run by someone not that interested in profit (Patagonia), or have deep roots in touchy-feely, crunchy-granola culture (Body Shop). No, now the big boys are playing. And since then, big, profit-maximizing companies have climbed on board in force.

The new players are working out how to pursue the growth that Wall Street demands and manage their footprints carefully. But if anyone can navigate the pressing business paradox of our times — how to shrink (less energy, fewer greenhouse gas emissions, etc) while growing (higher profits, more customers, better employee morale and productivity, etc) — it may be these companies, some of the most successful entities every created. The ultimate test is whether jumbo companies can have the environmental impact of shrimp.


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