ASSE 2010: Author Andrew Winston Wants Companies to Turn Green into Gold

Green is “a powerful trend shaping business, the way we eat and the way we live our lives,” Andrew Winston, author of the book “The Green Recovery” and co-author of the best-selling book “Green-to-Gold,” told a standing room-only audience during the opening keynote session of the professional development conference of the American Society of Safety Engineers (ASSE) in Baltimore. Wilson is the director of the Corporate Environmental Strategy Project at the Yale Center for Environmental Law and Policy. He also has helped companies both large and small use environmental strategy to grow, create enduring value and build stronger relationships with employees, customers and other stakeholders. His clients include Bank of America, HP, Pepsi, Boeing, and IKEA.

The discussion about the greening of business has become “remarkably politicized,” he noted, which is “a huge mistake and very unfortunate. Politics don’t matter; it’s just good business.”

He said the biggest hurdle faced by companies is the perception that green is an “invader,” seeking to add costs without provide tangible results. This just isn’t true, he added.

The five greatest environmental challenges businesses will have to face in the next generation include toxics and chemicals, biodiversity, the quantity and quality of our water supply, energy and climate change, he said.

“This really isn’t about polar bears anymore,” said Winston. “This is really about us and our survival, so it doesn’t really matter if you believe in climate change.”

He noted that China spends $9 billion per month on the development and utilization of green technology, many times what is spent in the United States. China also is building the equivalent of 30 midtown Manhattans every year. In 40 years, China will have built the equivalent of every building in the United States. “Supply cannot keep up with demand,” said Winston.

Fringe Eco-Companies

Winston jokingly referred to a number of companies as “fringe eco-companies” ­- companies such as Pepsi, Shell, GE, DuPont, John Deere, GM, Ford, Chrysler, PG&E and Alcoa – that are undertaking green initiatives because they understand they are good for business and ultimately, will allow them to place themselves at the head of the pack. “They are looking outside their four walls,” said Winston, who calls this “green to gold thinking.”

They also understand that it is better to self-regulate in terms of reducing waste, reducing their carbon footprints and reducing toxics than to wait for a regulatory agency to set their goals for them. “As one CEO told me, ‘If you’re not at the table, you’re on the menu,’” Winston added.

Winston offered this advice to companies:

Get lean. Look at ways to reduce the energy you use, the waste you produce and the environmental impact of your manufacturing process and products.

Get smart. Collect the data and understand the carbon footprint you produce. For example, several technology-heavy companies, such as Yahoo and Google, have opened IT centers in cities with cooler climates. The result is that they do not have to air condition these facilities ­– typically at a high cost – but can open windows and accomplish the same thing.

Get engaged. Engage your employees, your customers and your suppliers in your efforts to be green and reduce energy use and waste. Wal-Mart, for example, has asked its suppliers in South America to sign agreements that they will not produce beef or soybeans from land carved out of the Amazon forest.

Get creative. Radical innovators will come out on top, said Winston.

As an example of a radical innovation that not only is eco-friendly but bottom-line friendly, he shared this example from UPS. UPS trucks no longer make left turns. Every left turn means that a truck is sitting and idling at a stop for longer periods of time, using more energy and taking longer to make deliveries.

So, someone suggested that the company rework the routes so that trucks no longer make left turns. The suggestion is so simple it almost sounds stupid, yet it has saved UPS 28.5 million miles and 3 million gallons of gas.

“Think back to that first meeting,” said Wilson. “Someone said, ‘Hey, let’s not take any more left turns.’ Who’s with me on this? Come on!’”

Radical suggestions often sound ridiculous at first, he noted, but turn out to be in the best business interest of the company and the environment.

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