What’s the State of Green Business?

What are corporate sustainability leaders worrying about these days? Are businesses still investing time and money in green initiatives like they did a few years ago?

GreenBiz recently unveiled its State of Green Business 2012 report. The 84-page report  goes into great detail about the current climate for business sustainability and outlines some emerging green business trends.

green collage

Though there’s a general perception that it’s been a grim few years for sustainability given the down economy, the report says that’s not exactly true. Companies continue to “make, meet and even exceed” their sustainability goals, it says, and invest in clean energy.

That said, it points to some disconcerting signs: Carbon and other toxic emissions continue to climb worldwide, despite efforts to curtail them. E-waste, the recycling of electronics, continues to pile up in landfills.

The report looks at what’s happened to a wide range of key sustainability indicators over the past year or two.

Here are some of the interesting findings:

  • Clean-tech venture capital investments dropped by one-third in 2011 over 2010. (This was partly due to the economy, but also the high-profile failure of solar panel maker Solyndra that caused political backlash, the report says.)
  • Prices of solar panels are falling, installations going up.
  • Clean energy patents grew by 24% in 2011, up to 2,331.
  • Nearly half of all S&P 500 companies now report their non-financial environmental indicators.
  • The percentage of people carpooling and taking public transit to work fell slightly in 2011, according to U.S. Census data.
  • People working from home at least three days per week grew slightly, to 8.6 million, accord to IDC Research.
  • Energy use per dollar of U.S. gross domestic product rose by 4.5% in 2010 – the first increase in more than half a century of declines – according to U.S. Energy Information Administration data. (The reason? The bad economy in 2010 led to fewer companies making  energy-efficiency improvements to offset the growth in energy consumption.)
  • 2.44 million tons of electronics were discarded in 2010, and only about 25% of that was recycled.
  • The number of building owners pursuing LEED in 2011 dropped slightly from 2010.

Though the tough economy has certainly made it more challenging to devote resources to sustainability efforts, the report says companies would be hurting themselves by not trying:

“For companies, the risks and potential costs of doing nothing are rising … Addressing sustainability issues is no longer an optional, nice-to-do activity. It is an expectation, no more PR-worthy than safety, quality, employee retention, or customer satisfaction.”

Green Photo via Shutterstock


Kelly Spors Kelly Spors is a former small-business and entrepreneurship reporter and blogger for The Wall Street Journal who has also written for Yahoo!, Entrepreneur, NFIB's MyBusiness magazine and The New York Times. Kelly is now a freelance editor and writer based in Minneapolis and has previously managed communications for an environmental non-profit that helps businesses find ways to be greener.

5 Reactions
  1. Thanks Kelly for sharing the report.. I wonder if businesses who are into virtual office setup are also considered as ‘green business’ – even though there is an indirect correlation between saving commuting hours to reducing carbon footprint by opting to work at home. Just a thought..

  2. Shaleen, it was a good thought. There are millions of home based businesses that have that “virtual office setup”. We are “green” with a very small carbon footprint. I question whether they are counted.

  3. Good article, investing in the green movement is just that, an investment. While it may cost to put in those solar panels or to instigate a recycling program, once in place the savings start to roll in.