In recent years, jobs in the clean energy economy have grown at more than twice the rate of traditional jobs. Fuelled by consumer demand and pending legislation, interest in green business is growing, but what exactly makes a business green?
As ecologically-minded enterprises, green businesses provide products or services with a reduced environmental impact. Green business practices cover a host of interrelated elements. Green initiatives include reviewing processes to eliminate or recycle waste, eliminating or reducing the use of nonrenewable resources, using more alternative energies and improving fuel economy. They also include less obvious issues, like the way employees are treated and the safety of working conditions.
Green businesses operate in ways that diminish both environmental and social problems. These businesses adopt principles, policies, and practices that improve the quality of life for customers, employees, communities, and the environment.
For businesses to be truly green, they must sustain environmental resources and social resources including employees, customers, and the community. Being socially sustainable reflects an implicit belief in giving back to the community, whether through volunteering the time of employees, charitable donations or educational internships. These concerns have led many green businesses to adopt progressive environmental and human rights policies.
Some of the most effective green businesses develop a strategic plan that they continually monitor. Green businesses integrate sustainable thinking into every aspect of their operations from management to software. Truly committed green businesses are tasked with monitoring and managing a wide range of elements including solid and hazardous waste, water and energy conservation, pollution prevention, and recycling. ISO 14000 certification provides standards and guidelines for environmental management.
Designing For the Environment (DFE) is another element of green business. This process enables users to consider the potential environmental impacts of a product and its manufacturing process. Upcycling, the process of retaining high quality in a closed-loop industrial cycle, is a key element of DFE.
Most green businesses have an educational component alongside an emotional component. Green businesses both inform consumers about the environment and contribute to the sentiment that they can make a positive difference by purchasing products from a socially responsible company.
Green businesses communicate their values through real action; they seek to share values because the green consumer is a values-driven consumer. Green marketing is aligned with these values and is focused on making green the norm.
A Green business is a sustainable business, and a sustainable business is a profitable business. The Brundtland Report indicated that sustainability is a three-legged stool of people, planet, and profit. This report defines sustainable green development as "development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs."
A green business is neither a one-time event nor is it about cosmetic environmentalism. A green business ensures that all processes, products, and manufacturing activities adequately address environmental concerns.
A sustainable green business makes a profit and offers real value for customers, investors, and the environment. The best green businesses are positioned at the meeting point of ecology and 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.