The State of Green Business 2010: Alive and Kicking

Posted by on February 6, 2010 in Uncategorized |

Editor’s Note: To celebrate the launch of the third annual State of Green Business report, we will be highlighting over the next two weeks the 10 big trends that are shaping the future of the greening of mainstream business. You can download the report for free here, and read all 10 trends on GreenBiz.com.

“We’re still here.”

That may seem as fitting an epitaph as any for 2009, at least for most green business professionals.

It was a year that began with doom and gloom and ended on only a slightly more upbeat note. In between, the banks and the auto industry nearly collapsed, restaurants and retailers were shuttered, and those who managed to survive their employer’s downsizing often received what is euphemistically called a “haircut” — a reduction in pay, a loss of benefits, involuntary time off, or all of the above.

Amid all this was something notable — something that made this economic downturn distinct from all the others we’ve seen over the past quarter century: Green professionals weren’t among the first to be thrown overboard. True, their budgets were slashed, their headcounts frozen, all while their mandates sometimes increased. But they managed to survive, even thrive, during tough times. That’s a sea change. And as the clock struck a new decade, many stood up, dusted themselves off, and exclaimed, sometimes with more than a little surprise: “We’re still here.”

Their survival is testament to how the greening of business has transformed in the past few years. What began as a seemingly altruistic endeavor, then shifted to a way to cut costs and improve reputation, has become a fundamental business competency, alongside accounting, finance, human resources, marketing, customer service, procurement, knowledge management and others. Indeed, in some firms, green thinking is becoming embedded in each of these other disciplines, increasingly woven into the corporate fabric. That has made green strategy and practices ever more valued, seen by top brass as a way to cut costs, improve operations, foster innovation, engage employees and satisfy customers — all critical during tough economic times.

The result was that for some companies, environmental improvements and innovations became a means of surviving lean times, and being more competitive once things rebound.

So much for the high-level view. How did all this play out during 2009? To make sense of the year just passed, we combed nearly 2,400 news stories, blog posts, opinion pieces, resource reviews and podcasts published during 2009 on our five websites — GreenBiz.com, ClimateBiz.com, GreenerBuildings.com, GreenerComputing.com and GreenerDesign.com — in search of trends and themes. We will be presenting our top ten trends in green business for 2009 over the course of the next two weeks, in no particular order.

Radical Transparency Goes Mainstream

Green consumerism finally seems to be catching up to the Information Age. In recent months, a confluence of trends has brought more information about more products and companies to more people than ever before. Everyone from Washington to Walmart is demanding companies provide more information about the environmental (and health and social) impacts of what they do, and much of the information that results is being made public.

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