Vote Earth! by Shepard Fairey, under Creative Commons license on flickr.com
Long before global warming became a buzz phrase, the Environmental Defense Fund and U.S. global companies had joined forces at the vanguard of global green business practices. The EDF first won praise in the 1960s by fighting to ban DDT, the birdshell-cracking pesticide uncovered in Rachel Carson's famed book, Silent Spring. The EDF still is a legal crusader on green issues. But in recent years, the EDF and its scientists and economists have teamed with Big Business to make the world's climate a little cleaner by slashing carbon emissions and reducing packaging waste, among other environmental practices.
Through corporate partnerships and an Innovation Exchange program, the EDF and U.S. and global companies showcase some of the best green practices in the business realm. Among EDF's partners: Walmart, DuPont, Wegmans, FedEx, UPS, PHH Arval, Starbucks, McDonald's, Johnson & Johnson, Citigroup, IBM, Sun Microsystems and other corporate giants. Not your usual tree-hugging do-gooders, eh? (See "Case Studies" and "Cutting-Edge Environmental Programs.")
At the center of the green business movement is Gwen Ruta, EDF's vice president of corporate partnerships. Ruta has seen steady progress by companies over the past two decades. She predicts that more businesses will continue to measure their impact on the environment, while adopting cleaner manufacturing and distribution standards and practices. And where Fortune 500 companies go, much of the world will follow. In a recent interview with CoolGlobalBiz, Ruta talked about:
Companies forging ahead on green strategies, despite the global recession: "I definitely think that over the last three years, the momentum has been upward. It's been slightly dampened by the recession but not snuffed, which I take as a sign that we've really penetrated at every level. The recession would have been the perfect opportunity for many, many companies to say, 'Oh well, back to the basics, we can't afford this environmental stuff now.' But I didn't see that happening at all. In fact, we may be seeing the opposite. People see that every penny counts. Companies are thinking about energy efficiency and waste . . . (and about) the message that the environment and business can be synergistic."
Corporations going beyond lip service and window-dressing on green issues: "Our partners historically have been the Fortune 500, the biggest companies in America. We can get the best environmental results working with them, and they really are the standard-setters in their industries. If we work with McDonald's, Burger King will pay attention. If we work with Walmart, Target will pay attention. They raise the bar, and the level of buy-in is high. As for the next 50,000 companies, pick a number. (Green issues) are not necessarily on the radar screen. It's still a little bit of terra incognita for a lot of companies."
Charting the real progress of companies on their environmentally-friendly practices: "The best place to look is the annual State of Green Business report by Joel Makower at GreenBiz.com. They track what's happening over time."
"One of our current partners is Kohlberg Kravis Roberts, and one reason we're working with KKR is that it gives us the opportunity to change practices across a whole portfolio of companies. Working with three of KKR's companies (US Foodservice, PRIMEDIA and Sealy Corporation), the partnership has already saved $16 million and prevented more than 25,000 metric tons of greenhouse gas emissions in 2008. That translates to over $100 million in added portfolio value -- enough to get the attention of private-equity firms. The value of companies in private-equity holdings make up 10% of the GDP in America. That's a pretty good-sized slice of the economy."
The Environmental Defense Fund and corporate partner FedEx. Photo courtesy of the EDF.