Smaller environmental footprints spell profits for businesses

Dan Upham

Environmental progress comes in many forms, from grassroots political action to international emissions reduction targets. But if you want to make major changes on a grand scale in a relatively short amount of time, the marketplace offers some attractive possibilities. 

The notion that “good for business” and “good for the environment” are mutually exclusive terms is an increasingly antiquated and false dichotomy.

“Greed, for lack of a better word, is good,” noted the hyperbolic businessman Gordon Gekko in the 1987 movie Wall Street. Updated for modern times, today’s savvy businessperson would note that, “Green is good.”

Consider the below. 

A dominant Texas grocery chain seeks to protect ocean health 

H-E-B is one of the nation’s largest independently owned food retailers, with annual sales exceeding $20 billion. Environmental Defense Fund has been working with the grocer since 2012, when it became the first major retailer on the Gulf Coast to offer the GulfWild brand of red snapper.

In July 2014, H-E-B outlined nine ways in which it will provide the freshest, safest and most sustainable seafood. As Texas goes, so (we hope) goes the nation. 

A telecom giant addresses water and energy, others follow suit

AT&T is concerned about water use, and for good reason: A quarter of the company’s top water-consuming facilities are in water-stressed regions.

Conserving water is preserving operational capacity. That’s why AT&T publically committed to 150 million gallons of annualized water savings by the end of 2015, which is roughly equivalent to 50 million toilet flushes.

It also promised to reduce energy use associated with building cooling by 400 million kilowatt-hours. In layman’s terms, what 35,000 American households use in a year.

The toolkit EDF created to help AT&T reach these goals is available to all, and now Verizon, one of AT&T’s top competitors, wants in. It’s “a sign of how common-sense these measures are for companies to implement,” EDF’s Brendan FitzSimons writes.

To dust off an old marketing gem: We CAN hear you now.

A multinational consumer goods company embraces shared shipping

Proctor & Gamble manufactures a wide variety of consumer goods for sale all over the world. In Europe, P&G found it could save beaucoup bucks and make an impressive dent in the company’s carbon footprint if it adopted more collaborative distribution practices.

Turns out that Tupperware and P&G both have manufacturing facilities and distribution centers in Belgium, and both were making regular shipments to Greece with similar routes and distances. By teaming up and co-loading freight where appropriate, the companies were able to avoid 200 tons of climate pollution and save 17 percent on total transportation costs.

Stateside businesses want in on the action, too. CVS recently partnered with Kimberly-Clark and Colgate on a collaborative distribution pilot. “If your company isn’t yet embracing these strategies,” EDF’s Jason Mathers writes, “it is leaving money on the table.” 

The largest retailer on the planet prioritizes sustainability

Walmart employs 1.3 million people in the United States, and operates more than 11,000 stores in 27 countries around the world. The retail giant’s purchasing and production power offers unparalleled potential for environmental progress, and EDF is helping the company reach ambitious sustainability goals.

Walmart is encouraging food suppliers to optimize fertilizer use and to phase out toxic chemicals in consumer products.

Impacts are adding up

As the examples above suggest, businesses can affect positive change at a speed and of a scale that are, for lack of a better word, impressive.

So while progress may seem slow to those who follow the story every day, we see change happening – one major company at a time. Their impacts are adding up.