Feb 03, 2010
by BETH WICKHAM of Central Oregon Community College
Green is in style. This next decade promises an increasing emphasis on companies being “green.” We have actually arrived at a point in history where it is now “cool” to be concerned about the endangered environment. In other words, sustainable business performance is regarded as a competitive advantage, a catalyst for innovation and a way to capture new market and financing opportunities. As an entrepreneur, you need to understand this new reality so that you can face an ever-changing future with continued success.
A values shift has taken place in this country. An increasing number of consumers are now demanding that goods and services be produced by socially and environmentally responsible companies. Bankers, investors and others who evaluate companies and make decisions are starting to consider both environmental risks and environmental market opportunities. Consequently, more companies are discovering the benefits of going beyond regulatory compliance, towards sustainability. You can benefit greatly by owning and operating a “green” company.
Although ecology is not a new issue in business, its emergence as “chic,” even in more traditional circles, is very much in the reality of 2010. Because they no longer have to “buck the system” to be sustainable, businesses now have a tremendous opportunity to lead our society toward a sustainable future. By putting sound treatment of the environment into practice, organizations can reduce impact on our planet and enhance their own efficiency and effectiveness. The concept of sustainability involves creating and building profitable companies that also pursue environmental and social causes. These companies can be found across all industries, geographic locations and stages of business.
You can remain profitable, too. Do you have to sacrifice the bottom line to succeed ecologically? Not in today’s world. Your business can now be profitable while also being environmentally friendly and socially responsive. In the case of Mel Bankoff, founder of the Eugene-based business Emerald Valley Kitchen, nice guys finish first and get awards, too. Started in 1983 with $125 in supplies, the "Kitchen" has grown to be a 19,000 square foot production facility that manufactures all-natural fresh salsa, hummus, bean dips, and bottled cooking sauces with organic ingredients. Bankoff’s employees enjoy higher than average wages, vacation, healthcare, dental, vision, profit sharing, employee pension plan, stock equivalency program, and more. Winner of the Socially Responsible Business Award, Green Business of the Year Award, and the Community Applause Award presented by the Oregon Bankers Association, Mel has learned the secret of "doing well by doing good." Bankoff’s story is only one of many examples we could relate.
Beware of “Greenwashing.” Having said all of this, we would remiss without a warning about “greenwashing.” This is a fairly new term that describes the 21st century practice of exaggerating or downright falsifying the extent to which your company is green—just to look good to the customer. Before being green became so stylish, such practices were rare and were performed only by the occasional oil company.
Here is an example: Many companies’ brands of house paint advertise that their paint is low in harmful compounds such as “volatile organic compounds” (known as VOCs). However this claim is true only for the base paint, before colorant has been added. Once that happens, dangerous levels of VOC often result, leaving the customer with a confusing “half truth.”
An increasingly savvy customer pool has become discerning enough to see through such a ploy in many cases. You can also become savvier on this issue by accessing the University of Oregon’s “Greenwashing Index” (www.greenwashingindex.com). Also, Consumer Reports has a website called “Greener Choices” (www.greenerchoices.org).
Welcome to the new, greener reality.
COCC’s Business Development Center provides workshops and free confidential business advising. Call Beth Wickham at 541-383-7290 for more information or to meet with a business advisor.