Sunday, July 07, 2013

Greenwashing a Business Into Sustainability

Greenwashing isn't just for Fortune 500 megacorporations anymore.  Now small and medium-size enterprises can do it too.  Aspiring entrepreneurs need a roadmap.

Andrew Savitz wrote The Triple Bottom Line to argue that corporations should endogenize the environmental impact of their operations.  That's my fancy way of saying that environmental costs should be transparent on a company's financial statements.  This first wave of thinking about sustainability eventually begged the question of measuring environmental and social costs.  The desire to calculate a social return on investment gave rise to the SROI Network of member companies committed to meeting sustainability metrics.  Startups that adhere to their SGAAP standards may perk up the ears of VCs (just a hunch, worth a shot).

SROI isn't the only family of metrics clamoring for attention from the business community.  The ICLEI consensus in favor of Agenda 21 development guidelines will require developers and business owners to be very cognizant of municipal codes.  Most startups will fall below the emissions thresholds of the Carbon Disclosure Project but they can still join the Global Reporting Initiative so they can target milestones for mention in their fundraising pitch.

Businesses get more than brownie points for locating in a building that is LEED-certified or ENERGY STAR compliant.  They may be eligible for grants, tax breaks, loan guarantees, and subsidies.  Some property appraisers may be more generous with property valuations for such buildings.  The SBA has a whole slew of sustainable tips. 

For-profit companies can certify themselves as B-Corporations with proof that they offer a greater societal problem-solving value.  Don't confuse this certification with a benefit corporation, which is a different type of corporate structure.  The State of California offers a Green Business Certification Program that probably helps a business' image.  Not to be outdone, the Bay Area has a green program too.  I considered submitting Alfidi Capital for some of these certifications for about half a second.  It would add nothing to my sarcastic image and reduce the time I commit to blogging.

Greenwashing doesn't deserve a bad rap.  New habits eventually drive changes in core values.  Getting companies to think like sustainable enterprises might actually make them sustainable.  Starting somewhere is better than never starting at all.