Yesterday, I tuned in to a brief conference call with Gina McCarthy, the EPA Administrator. She spoke about the soon-to-be-released rules governing carbon emissions from power plants. “Rules” sound stodgy, but as a green business owner, I welcome them.
Addressing the biggest part of the problem
The call was hosted by the American Sustainable Business Council, of which I am a member. (As a green business, I feel more “at home” with the ASBC than I do with, say, the the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.)
Ms. McCarthy spoke briefly about the intensive process used to craft the rules, and the flexibility with which they can be implemented.
I can’t wait. Really. About 40% of total U.S. energy-related CO2 emissions in 2012 came from power plants. A huge chunk of that comes from coal. It makes sense to go after the biggest part of the emissions problem first.
Still waiting for renewables here…
As a green business person, I would like to run my home and business on renewable energy like wind or solar. Sadly, my latest electric bill shows that Tampa Electric derives 58% of its fuel from coal, and 37% from natural gas and oil. Ugh. No matter how I try to conserve energy, whatever I do use creates more greenhouse gas emissions. And I can’t choose a different power company.
TECO ran its annual lottery for solar panels on April 25, 2014. It sold out within minutes. With 700,000 customers, allotting just $1.5 million per year to solar systems doesn’t make sense. It’s like pouring a teaspoon of water on a forest fire.
So I hope the new carbon rules will – ahem – “motivate” utilities like TECO to change – and quickly.
I was in Denver, CO last week, attending the first-ever live event from the Copyblogger.com folks. Their “Authority Intensive 2014” was sold out. It may be the best conference I’ve attended on copywriting and content marketing.
The conference had 4 tracks:
My brain was exploding (in a good way) by the end of the first day. As an online writer (primarily), it’s good to remember that content fits into a larger “content ecosystem.” Here are 4 key takeaways for how any business – especially those building green(er) practices into their operations – can use content effectively to reach business goals.
- Know your readers/customers – This goes without saying, but it’s easier said than done. Inspired by the conference, I’d love to know more about your business – at whatever stage of “green” it is. What is your biggest content problem as either a green business or as a business working to become greener? Tell me at email@example.com. I’ll keep it confidential, and I’ll send you a $5 Starbucks gift card for your trouble.
- Tell true stories well – This is particularly relevant to businesses that are “green” or becoming greener in their operations. Stories about how your business is going green moves those actions out of the realm of “scammy” or “scary” or “confusing,” into something understandable and doable. Become a trusted source of updates on what your are doing to become more sustainable, and people will both pay attention and emulate you.
- Re-purpose your content – I’ve said this before, but it’s nice to hear the experts say it too. If you’re a big guy, your Corporate Sustainability Report is a treasure trove of potential content. If your business is medium or small, your green actions – however modest – can be the basis for an infographic, a blog post, or a separate web page about your company’s sustainability actions.
- Focus on “useful” – Green businesses and those going greener have an advantage. Contrary to popular belief, many “green actions” – from installing LED lights to conserving water – save energy, emissions, and money. I don’t know a business that doesn’t care about saving money. Share your useful knowledge of greener practices with other businesses or consumers. It enables them to act. And since a business’s journey to green usually takes time, you will always have new green actions to talk about.
I can’t resist sharing 2 other bits of wisdom from the conference:
- “There are no shortcuts – you have to do the work.” (Seth Godin)
- “Act more than think – action breeds confidence and courage.” (Darren Rowse)
More than ever, original content is foundational to your green business success. By telling true stories about your green actions and how your customers benefit, you extend your reach and build trust in your brand. Over time, that trust becomes money.
Ready to let my green business help yours? Contact me at 813-968-1292 or email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Last month, I ran into a business that doesn’t bill itself as “green” but really is – through and through.
It’s Simple Green Smoothies. The word “green” here doesn’t mean “eco-friendly.” It means that all the smoothies contain spinach or kale – 2 green veggie powerhouses. And the smoothies taste fantastic.
When I found their website, I saw something very deft – a green business that doesn’t preach “greenness.” Instead, they focus on health and feeling great and getting your kids to “drink their veggies.” They made me a convert.
This website does a lot of things right. It has:
- a sense of fun. When you see the pictures of Jen and Jadah holding green “mustaches” to their faces, you can’t help but smile.
- a focus on health, something most people want, rather than on “being green.”
- a friendly vibe. When you read that Jen and Jadah are “two friends on a mission to spread the love of green smoothies,” you understand that right away. It’s simple and authentic.
- lots of lovely images. A picture of a green smoothie looks – to the uninitiated – like “green sludge” (Jadah’s words, not mine). So instead, they photographed the ingredients. Berries, bananas, mangoes – beautifully arranged – look colorful and healthy and enticing.
- lots of “how to” information. Everything from how to blend a smoothie, to what ingredients you can substitute, to where to find the right kind of blender. They make it easy for people like me –a former non-smoothie person – to try this.
The site promotes “green behaviors” without calling them that
Instead, they describe them as:
- Ways to save money. For example, in the FAQ, there’s a section on how to do smoothies on a budget. Every tip that follows could be lifted from a page titled “How to Grocery Shop in a More Eco-friendly Way.” But instead they focus on another customer value – saving money – that has both broader appeal and matters to their audience.
- Friendly suggestions. A second place they sneak in “green” behaviors is on the “Essentials” page. They suggest using mason jars, stainless steel straws, and re-usable travel cups. These are all wildly eco-friendly tips. They are simply suggested as the best way to drink your smoothie – as Jen and Jadah do.
A successful, profitable green business
Simple Green Smoothies is a profitable, successful business. More than 500,000 people have taken their green smoothie challenge. They focus on health, feeling great, and losing weight through the power of green smoothies. But they also model and encourage “greener” behaviors in their business and among their fans, without calling them that. And that’s OK.
In more ways than one, their site helps people adopt “greener” behaviors in a “smooth” and enjoyable way (sorry – bad pun.) It’s a model many other businesses can emulate.
Phew! What I think of as “Earth Week” is coming to a close.
As I reflect on this, a great blue heron is sitting on my pool cage, cleaning his feathers. His presence feels like a good omen to me.
Since I can’t do justice to all the Earth Day happenings, I’ll just mention 3 happy highlights:
Globally, the good folks at Earthday.org report that over a billion people in 192 countries participated in everything from coastal cleanups to peaceful protests calling for cleaner energy. That’s a lotta people.
Locally, the Sustany’s Foundation helped celebrate the 10 new “Green Business” designees in the City of Tampa, Florida. The 10 restaurants participated together in a program, tailored to their business, that tackled everything from food waste to recycling. Go Tampa!
Individually – I felt privileged to present a webinar on “Green Tips for the Home” to a client. Raising awareness about what a carbon footprint is – and how to reduce it while saving money – is a treat for me.
Keep the Earth Day Spirit Every Day
While Earth Day is officially over, for me and every other business that is transitioning to greener operations, it really isn’t over. It won’t be over until our economy – from our buildings to our transportation to our energy grid – is on a sustainable footing.
And because I want to hurry the arrival of that day, tomorrow – and all the days after – will be Earth Day too.
What did you do for Earth Day? I’d love to hear in the comments!
Happy Earth Day!
My gift to you this Earth Day is a “heads-up” about a something called “Clean Energy Victory Bonds (CEVB).”
Last week I tuned in to a webinar from Green America’s Green Business Network that explained them.
2 Representatives from California introduced a bill on April 8 in the House of Representatives to create “Clean Energy Victory Bonds.” The idea is based on the “Victory Bonds” that helped finance World War II.
I think it’s a great idea. Here’s why:
What is a CEVB?
- If passed, the bonds would be U.S. Treasury bonds of the EE type. They will specifically finance the production of clean energy technologies.
- The interest will be competitive with other EE bonds.
- The sectors supported include solar, wind, geothermal, biofuels, electric vehicles and energy efficiency technologies.
- The face amounts would be as little as $25, so small investors can participate. And redemption periods are very flexible, ranging from 12 months to 30 years.
- The plan is to sell $50 billion in bonds, with the expectation that that would attract additional public and private investment on the order of $150 billion more.
Why are they needed?
- The bonds bypass Congress. The US is losing the renewables race to countries like Germany and China. Bonds take the issue of financing clean energy away from our dithering Congress and put it into the hands of both citizens and investors.
- The bonds would provide a steady and consistent source of financing. For businesses that never know if a particular government tax credit will be there or not, this form of financing guarantees consistency over the longer term.
- These bonds enable investors of all sizes to participate. There is plenty of interest and support for this bill. Over 15,000 people coast to coast have already pledged to buy the bonds. And the bill was just proposed.
What will CEVBs do for our economy?
- Create jobs. It is expected that the funding from CEVBs would create over a million jobs. Not just jobs in the future, but jobs right now in areas like construction and manufacturing. This is more jobs than the fossil-fuel sector creates. And the jobs, on average, pay more.
- Avoid new taxes. This is not a tax. CEVBs would be an investment option, and people who want to own part of the clean energy future can buy in.
- Improve energy security. As renewable energy options are deployed, the U.S.’s reliance on unstable countries for oil will diminish. And unpleasant oil price shocks will be a thing of the past.
What will they do for the environment?
CEVBs will support both research into and deployment of technologies to:
- Reduce greenhouse gas emissions
- Reduce the air and water pollution that result from fossil fuel drilling, mining and burning
- Reduce the likelihood of catastrophic natural disasters (floods, fires, storms) that have become more frequent and more severe as the planet warms.
How can you get involved?
- Pledge to buy a bond! Great Green Content has already pledged to support this bill and to buy bonds.
- Tell your Representative in Washington that you support this bill. The more sponsors, the better its chances for passage.
Required caveat: I am not an investment adviser. So use your common sense when it comes to this, or any other, financial decision.
Here it is – the end of my short summary of Andrew Winston’s book “The Big Pivot.” The last chapter is called “Build a Resilient, Antifragile Company.”
By “antifragile”, he means a company that doesn’t just survive, but gets better. Like a muscle that strengthens when you exercise it.
“You build resilience to protect yourself from the fact that you don’t know what will happen.” According to Winston, “We need systems that deal well with volatility and uncertainty.”
Foundations of a Resilient Business Include:
- Diversity – of ideas and perspectives makes an organization stronger.
- Redundancy, with buffers – Businesses dislike redundancy because it seems like waste. But when auto manufacturers got critical parts from just one supplier – and that supplier’s factory flooded – their operations screeched to a halt. Millions of dollars were lost. Buffers are “the margins that provide the short term breathing space needed to absorb shocks.” Why wouldn’t we set up our businesses with some buffers to better handle extreme situations, especially as those situations are happening more frequently?
- Speed: Fast Feedback and Failure – real time feedback is powerful. Energy meters that show homeowners their energy use, right now, change behavior. People turn off the lights and ease back on the air conditioning. We also need to fail quickly and reward people for trying, no matter what the outcome. Each failure can points us in new, more promising directions.
- Modular and distributed design – for example, distributed power systems would protect us from the large, disruptive power outages we have now.
According to Winston, the “Big Pivot” has to come from the top – the C-Suite. (While I agree, I am less optimistic that these guys will make the right decisions.)
Finally, there will be winners and losers. In Winston’s view, the vast majority of us will win in this new world, if for no other reason than that “ensuring our survival is a pretty big victory.”
My favorite lines from the book
I started out bookmarking pages of the book on my Kindle. I stopped because almost every page had an eye-popping statistic or gem of a story. The 5 lines below are just a taste of what’s in the book. Enjoy!
- “It’s ludicrous to prioritize short-term profit at the cost of our very survival.”
- “What if the (stock) market is irrational? Would we be making strategic decisions based on the demands of a raving lunatic?”
- “Business needs to treat government – which is the representation of our collective wills – as a partner, not an enemy.”
- “ROI is broken.”
- “When companies say they can’t sell greener products because customers don’t want them, it’s a cop out.”
Here’s Part 4 of my summary of “The Big Pivot,” Andrew Winston’s latest book. The book is 352 pages, so I offer these posts as a shortcut to understanding the gist of it.
We’ve covered the mega-challenges, the Vision Pivot and the Valuation Pivot. The third and final pivot is the “Partner Pivot.” It’s all about collaborating – with government, with competitors and with customers.
A Super-Condensed Summary: The Partner Pivot
Because it will take all of us working together to transition to a cleaner, greener economy, businesses need to find new ways to influence stakeholders. Winston suggests:
Become a Lobbyist
According to Winston, “Political action and lobbying are absolutely critical to making the Big Pivot successfully.”
He identifies 5 key policies that companies should lobby for:
- Put a Price on Carbon – Winston recommends a carbon tax as a “great revenue and deficit-reduction opportunity.”
- End Fossil-Fuel Subsidies – and subsidize cleaner energy for a while. We have a short time to eliminate carbon. Subsidies that speed the shift from fossil fuels to clean energy – and then decline – make sense.
- Pursue Public-Private Investment in the Clean Economy – “The private sector alone cannot build the infrastructure we need for a modern, clean economy.” Government’s track record of success with long-term public-private investment programs includes the birth of the computer age, the federal highway system, the fight against AIDS, and the space program.
- Implement Higher “Clean” Product and Production Standards – if your product uses less energy than your competitors, why not lobby for a higher standard for all? It will level the playing field, and put your competitors in a tough spot.
- Support Greater Corporate Transparency – Big business spent millions in California and Washington State to defeat proposed laws requiring labels for GMO foods. Says Winston, “companies that were against the law…were on the wrong side of history.”
According to Winston, “Business needs to treat government – which is the representation of our collective wills – as a partner, not an enemy.”
“The mega-challenges are exactly that – mega – we cannot solve them alone – we have to collaborate.”
One such collaborative effort going on right now is The Sustainability Consortium. Established with funding from Walmart, the group is composed of 80 of the world’s largest retailers, including Coke, Clorox, Colgate-Palmolive, P&G, Pepsi and Unilever.
TSC’s purpose is to reduce the impacts of global consumption by gathering much better data on the life cycle impacts of consumer products. Using TSC’s footprint data, retailers can better decide what goes on the shelves.
It’s a big change for businesses used to thinking only of “cutthroat competition.” But Winston encourages companies to map the “ecosystem” of their industry, identify “hot spots” where joint action can have the biggest impact, and lay out a migration path to lower-carbon solutions.
Inspire Customers to Care and to Use Less
This is a tough one. We live in a “consumer” society, and that mentality is hard to break.
But according to Winston, “The mega-challenges we face can’t be handled by government or business alone…We need citizens as consumers to make different choices.”
Why? Because their impacts may be far greater than those of business. When Unilever measured the impacts (energy, water, waste) of its major products, it found that its own manufacturing footprint was a small fraction of the total. Consumers were responsible for the lion’s share. “The water we use to shampoo our hair, and the energy we use to heat the water, dwarfs the resources needed to make the product.”
In an ideal world, “a circular economy filled with smartly designed products can help solve some of our resource challenges, but that’s a long way off.”
In the meantime, businesses are trying different approaches. Patagonia had its “Don’t Buy This Jacket” campaign. The message is not just “use less” but “get more value and live better.”
Marks and Spencer, the British retailer, has its “Shwop Your Old Clothes” campaign. It encourages customers to bring their old clothes back to the store. M&S makes a “Shwop” coat from recycled items that is half the cost of a virgin wool coat.
According to Winston, “when companies say they can’t sell greener products because customers don’t want them, it’s a cop out.” Companies create “needs” all the time. If Marketing focuses on educating consumers about how to make better choices, those messages will motivate action over time.
How is your business partnering around the mega-challenges?
Here’s installment #3 of my short summary of “The Big Pivot,” Andrew Winston’s latest book. For the “too busy” green business owner or corporate sustainability person, these posts are a shortcut to help you get the gist of it.
Yesterday we covered the “Vision Pivot”. Today, we look at the second major “pivot”– or change in direction – that companies must make. He calls it the Valuation Pivot.
This pivot, in my view, gets to the crux of the biscuit. The Valuation Pivot is about money and measurement and the very poor job our current businesses do of accurately measuring business value.
A Super-Condensed Summary: The Valuation Pivot
On Sustainability, Companies Need to Put their Money Where their Mouth Is
Winston asks the simple question, “What are people in your company paid to do?” If they are paid to hit the earnings number every 90 days, and not paid for addressing the mega–challenges of a hotter, scarcer world, then the results are predictable.
So pay people to address the mega-challenges. Awards are nice, recognition is good. But money motivates action. Make sustainability part of everyone’s performance review, and change the incentives for senior executives.
When companies pursue sustainability seriously, they reap another benefit: engaged employees. Recent research by Gallup shows that firms with the most engaged employees are:
- 16% more profitable
- 8% more productive
- have 25% – 49% lower turnover
than firms with the least engaged employees.
Many employees find sustainability an engaging issue. It’s not surprising. “It’s inspiring to work on something that’s both profitable and for the larger good,” Winston says.
Companies Need to Redefine Return on Investment (ROI)
Winston is brave to say this.
Why redefine this time-honored method of making investment decisions? Because “ROI is broken,” says Winston. “Most companies use ROI as a blunt tool, without measuring the full spectrum of value.”
“The problem is, there are many contributors to business value that we fail to put a number on.” These include business resilience, risk reduction, increased sales potential, and easier hiring.
Companies pursuing sustainable business practices may adjust their ROI models. Approaches range from dedicating funds for green investments to lowering the hurdle rate to pricing carbon internally. IKEA, for example, lets green projects pay off in 10 to 15 years, instead of the standard 2 years.
Ultimately, it’s a leadership decision as to how to evaluate the return on green investments.
Put a Number on the Value of Natural Capital
Natural capital is “everything the planet provides for our economy and our lives, including forests, fisheries, soil, metals, coastal wetlands,” and so on. The list is very long.
Historically, there has been no price for these “eco-system services.” But in order for markets to work, they need prices. So some companies have begun the task of estimating the value of these things. According to Winston, “the most quoted estimate of the total value that nature provides is $33 trillion annually (actually $48 trillion in today’s dollars.)
It’s early days yet, and no one standard has emerged. But as Winston points out, “We live on a single planet with a finite amount of resources. Either we manage these resources well, or we don’t survive.”
Valuing natural capital accurately, instead of treating resources as “free”, will help businesses make far better decisions.
Tomorrow: The Partner Pivot
Here’s the 2nd installment of my short summary of “The Big Pivot,” Andrew Winston’s latest book. Since every green business owner and corporate sustainability person I know is crazy-busy, I offer these posts as a shortcut to understanding the gist of it.
Yesterday we covered Winston’s 3 mega-challenges facing business. Today, we look at Winston’s “radically practical strategies” for addressing them. There are 3 major “pivots” – or changes in direction – that companies must make: a Vision pivot, a Valuation pivot, and a Partner pivot. Today we look at the Vision Pivot.
A Super-Condensed Summary: The Vision Pivot
If your eyes roll at anything to do with “Vision,” stay with me. Winston is very concrete. The “Vision Pivot” is about setting clear, science-based goals. Every journey requires a destination. With a journey as big as “addressing climate change”, it’s essential to know what we must achieve and by when. To do so successfully means:
- Fighting short-termism – Winston says, “Leaders need a much deeper concept than just earnings (which is one particular, warped and narrow view of business success.)” He points to Unilever as one company that has stopped providing quarterly guidance to Wall Street. This frees up management time to focus on the actual business – including longer term investments in sustainable initiatives – rather than yakking about the stock.
2 other ways to deal with “the Street” include educating analysts on how sustainability activities create value, or converting to B Corporation status, which balances profit maximization with goals around people and planet.
- Setting big, science-based goals – According to climate scientists, we need to keep the planet’s warming to 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 Fahrenheit) to avoid the worst effects of climate change. Winston says that most companies are not using this benchmark to figure out what to do. Instead, they plan their actions based on what they have done in the past.
He likens this situation to being on a ship that is filling up with water, and then asking people how much water they think they can bail. That’s not the relevant question. We need to know how fast we HAVE to bail to save the ship from sinking, and then plan from there.
One company that’s getting it right is Ford. Chairman Bill Ford – who knows that use of the company’s vehicles represents about 2% of global emissions – has long focused on how to reduce those impacts. The company pursues 3 core strategies: (1) improving fuel efficiency (2) exploring low carbon alternative fuels and (3) developing hybrid and electric vehicles. And they measure how well they are doing against specific, science-based numbers.
Is this profitable? According to Ford’s website, “Ford completed one of its best years ever in 2013. Led by record profits in North America and Asia Pacific Africa, we achieved our fifth year in a row of positive net income.”
- Pursuing “heretical innovation” – this means “exploring what we take for granted.” It requires “asking disruptive questions and challenging the conventional wisdom.” Winston tells the story of UPS, and how odd it was, initially, to consider re-mapping all their routes to avoid left turns. But that change saves UPS about 85 million miles and 8 million gallons of fuel annually.
Seeing the World Anew
Winston’s book is full of examples of companies who have dramatically cut emissions, saved water, and reduced waste. But much remains to be done. Once a company makes the “Vision Pivot”, it sees the world anew. And the smart ones will see, as Winston does, ” a multi-trillion dollar opportunity to reconceive how we design, manufacture and deliver buildings, transportation, energy and much more.”
Tomorrow: the Valuation Pivot