Is Business Sustainability Moving Fast Enough?

Last week, I wrote about how small businesses have been slower overall than their larger counterparts to adopt green business practices for a variety of reasons. But there’s a larger, more worrisome concern:  Many environmentalists and sustainable business advocates worry the overall charge toward eco-friendly business practices isn’t moving fast enough.

greenhouse gas emissions

Even though many companies — big and small — have committed to reducing their energy use, recycling more, building sustainable supply chains and other very admirable goals, some experts say their strides aren’t ambitious enough to stem the major environmental problems, such as climate change, pollution and natural resource depletion, that they’re trying to solve. (Not to mention that some corporations are missing the sustainability goals they are setting for themselves.)

Meantime, signs of climate change are springing up everywhere, with this winter being among the warmest on record in several U.S. cities. Greenhouse gas emissions continue to rise worldwide. Climate scientists say we must reduce greenhouse gas emissions at least 50% to stop the earth’s warming by 2050, but many companies set targets far less aggressive than that.

Green to Gold co-author Andrew Winston looked at this issue in a recent blog post, and suggested some ways to improve business sustainability leadership so that it better serves its mission of saving the planet. Here are some of his recommendations:

Focus on science. More companies should align their goals with those backed by science. If greenhouse gas emissions need to fall 80% to stop climate change, then more companies should set goals to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions by that much or even strive for “zero impact.” (Think Sony.)

Push innovation to new levels. Companies need to aggressively scale up innovation and make sustainable design and use a core goal. This will help them look for ways to get customers to use less of their products, similar to Patagonia’s CommonThreads initiative.

Meet the challenge with resources. It’s important to devote enough time and money to big goals so you can realistically meet them. Too many companies set lofty goals but then don’t budget nearly enough to actually make them happen.

Don’t cave to investor pressure. Sustainability goals often don’t jibe with with the short-term profit expectations of investors. But companies can take steps to relieve this pressure on themselves. Some companies like Unilever and Google have changed this expectation by not providing earnings guidance to investors or becoming B-corps.

“In short, I’m imagining a very different kind of company,” Winston wrote. “The overwhelming challenges we face demand profound shifts.”

Greenhouse Gas Concept 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. There just isn’t the money to make those investments in ‘Green’ or more economic resources. The companies that can do that aren’t suffering, they are the rich corporate tycoons. Not people who are scrambling to save their business.

  2. As companies generate profits they demonstrate their commitment to the planet and humanity. Making green is green. They produced more value than costs.

  3. Thanks a lot for posting this true picture of what’s happening with companies here, Kelly.

    I still go back to general economic trends; they’ve been low to flat, and I don’t feel that company execs are as tuned into sustainability as they were 3-4 years ago.

    They have bigger fish to fry. (In their minds)

    The Franchise King®

  4. Super interesting. I had no idea there was this go-green movement happening at the scale it is.