Peak sustainability? Thankfully, not….

Dave Stangis and Tod Arbogast at the GreenBiz Forum

Dave Stangis and Tod Arbogast at the GreenBiz Forum

Have we reached “peak sustainability”? It’s an intriguing, and a worrisome idea, the notion that the much-hyped green business wave of the late 2000s has come and gone. But a day spent at the GreenBiz Forum in New York, where the idea of peak sustainability was bruited about, leads me to believe — and to hope — that we are nowhere near a peak.

Peak sustainability is a term coined by John Davies, a vice president and senior analyst at GreenBiz, who works with dozens of big companies. As part of the excellent  State of Green Business 2013 report, John has tracked the hiring of sustainability professionals by big companies and found that it has leveled off in recent years. He wrote:

It appears the wave of major companies hiring their first full-time sustainability executives crested long ago….If hiring a senior executive to champion and coordinate sustainability efforts full-time is a leading indicator of future efforts, there’s a case to be made that such efforts may have plateaued…. Could it be that pretty much everyone who’s coming to this party has already arrived?

sportsillustratedMeantime, marketing and media devoted to corporate sustainability, as well as to all things green, appears to be slipping. The high profile greening initiatives at GE, IBM and Walmart are lower profile lately. Remember the cover story on global warming in, of all places, Sports Illustrated? That ran way back in 2007. If SI has returned to the topic, I missed it. Its parent company, Time Inc., laid off its sustainability team as the magazine business slumped.

But as the GreenBiz Forum unfolded, an array of speakers, including both senior executives from big companies and idealistic young entrepreneurs, described how they are moving sustainability initiatives forward inside their organizations. Not fast enough, surely not boldly enough, but often in innovative ways that are likely to spread. Some examples: [click to continue...]

Instead of shopping, why not yerdle?

It’s Black Friday. Instead of shopping, why not yerdle?

Yerdle is a sharing and shopping website and mobile app being launched today by two stalwarts of corporate sustainability — Adam Werbach, the former Sierra Club leader and Saatch & Saatchi marketing guy, and Andy Ruben, Walmart’s first sustainability director.

Andy and Adam, who are both 39 and live in San Francisco (natch), have come up with a very cool idea. Yerdle is a way for people who have stuff to give away, or other stuff they want, to share with one another–before heading out to the store to buy something new. By today, after a beta test in the Bay Area, they expect that more than 10,000 items will be offered on Yerdle.

I took a sneak peek at the site the other day and found, among other things, a Ikea children’s table and chairs, a yoga DVD, Sesame Street DVDs, red Baby Gap sweats, a dustbuster, a radio alarm clock, a laptop sleeve, a pasta maker, kids books, a collection of little wooden dress-up dolls, and more–and that’s before inviting my friends to join. [click to continue...]

Adam Werbach: Take small steps to go “blue”

person_14272ab1_mediumTo attack big environmental problems, start with small steps.

So says Adam Werbach—activist, author, advertising man and one of the more interesting people working in the sustainability movement today.

Werbach is the former president of the Sierra Club, the author of Strategy for Sustainability: A Business Manifesto and the chief executive of Saatchi & Saatchi S, a sustainability consulting firm that’s part of the global communications giant Publicis. He’s worked for Wal-Mart, Procter & Gamble and Frito Lay, among others.

He’s behind a Saatchi project called DOT – do one thing – that is inspired by the PSPs – personal sustainability projects – that he helped bring to Wal-Mart. Wal-Mart encouraged its 1.3 million employees to integrate sustainable practices into their lives by making small changes to their everyday habits. Many thousands have stopped smoking, lost weight, recycled more, or biked or walked to work.

Is this the way to curb climate change, stop the loss of biodiversity, save tropical forests and the like? Or do people screw in a CFL bulb and then figure they’ve done their part?

Werbach argues that small steps lead to big things. “Change begets change,” he says. “Recycling and energy conservation—once you start remembering to do that, you’re remember to do other things.”

Werbach spoke the other day at the Net Impact conference at Cornell University, and he drew a big crowd. Net Impact is a  group of business students and young professionals who want to use the power of business to make the world better. [Disclosure: I’m a new member of the Net Impact board.] The conference attracted more than 2,400 people to Ithaca, N.Y., in November in the midst of a recession–no small accomplishment.

The crowd may have showed up because Werbach is a controversial. His green friends went after him when he joined forces with Wal-Mart. He appeared on the cover of Fast Company in 2007 beside the headline “He Sold His Soul to Wal-Mart.” (Fortunately, the story was kinder.) But even now, he begins his talk by explaining why he gave a speech in 2004 called “Is Environmentalism Dead? [PDF], left the Sierra Club and opted to work in the corporate world.

“My quitting environmentalism was about embracing something different,” he says. “We were not moving far enough, fast enough.” [click to continue...]