One of the most influential figures of the 21st century, Kermit the frog, is most popularly known for his role on The Muppet Show, a television program that attracted more than 200 million viewers in over 100 countries each week during the late seventies. However, Kermit was more than just an actor, he was an artist. Wanting the world to know, he convinced the network to allow him to perform the song that would eventually go on to define the environmental movement for the past three decades. The year was 1976 and the track was “It’s Not Easy Being Green”.
The song, which you will not find on too many iPods today, might be making a comeback due to a potential lyric controversy. The messaging is quickly losing credibility amongst society and people are realizing that being green is becoming easier thanks to an unsuspecting source. Who, do you ask, is quickly becoming the driving force behind the survival and long-term success of the campaign to mitigate and adapt to climate change? That’s right. You guessed it, the private sector.
Green business is blooming and turning the environmental movement into a market place, making it easier for people to become more eco-friendly through the products and services they use. Due to the ever-increasing hype surrounding climate change (not to mention the scientific evidence), the invisible hand of the market has been busy building up the green economy. Everyone, from major corporations to eco-preneurs, seems to be jumping on the bandwagon.
There are two major types of green business. A green to green business is one that was built from the ground up with a foundation of environmental responsibility. One of the best success stories is authored by eco-preneur Anita Roddick who, at the height of the hippie revolution, founded The Body Shop. This company was green before it was cool to be so and in 2005 posted sales of over £700 million.
The other form of green business includes those companies that realized over time that they can help protect the planet while making profit. Walmart is one big example. While reducing their carbon footprint was not at the top of their list of things to do when the company first started, I can assure you it is now. They are fast becoming the leading provider of organic foods in North America and are in the process of powering all their stores with renewable energy.
Now I expect these two examples will spark controversy among some people who traditionally view business, especially big business as the enemy. Both companies are no strangers to controversy or public backlash. Businesses in general have had a bad rep since the beginning and in some cases deservedly so. But now when they are trying to clean up their act, many are still finding it hard to forgive and forget.
But who else are we going to rely on? Non-profit organizations do great work but sometimes lack the capacity or resources to implement the larger solutions. Governments often react slower than Snuffleupagus on Sesame Street. Certain countries are providing some meaningful leadership but others are not even fully convinced that a climate crisis even exists, auhhhummmCanada, excuse me, and are doing next to nothing to improve the situation. After the dismal outcome of last year’s United Nations Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen, hardly anyone have great expectations from this year’s meetings in Cancun. People should not hold their breath for governments to lead the way because that might be their last breath of fresh air.
Businesses are unique in the way they can get things done. They are fast, efficient and always looking for ways to increase profits. What is different today, more so than any other time in history, is that making more profit is becoming increasingly linked to the level of environmental stewardship a company exhibits. Even David Suzuki is convinced that working with certain businesses is beneficial to the cause. Earlier this year, he was the keynote speaker at the Walmart Canada Green Business Summit explaining that, only a few years ago, businesses would not even let him in the building. Now, they are knocking down his door for advice.
Suzuki realizes the ability businesses have to make a positive difference and the influence they have on society. This influence is constantly being questioned because some companies have been caught abusing it. The use of “green washing” has polluted the market, a technique some company’s use to trick the public into believing that their products and services are eco-friendly. Third party certification programs like Energy Star are discouraging this deceiving practice. By performing audits and setting up industry standards, these programs are adding authenticity to company’s green initiatives but there is much more work to be done to ensure companies stay on the right green track.
The purpose here is not to encourage you to immediately go on a Paris Hilton-type shopping spree for everything green. Over consumption is not the answer. The point here is to realize the private sector is an incredibly strong force that comprises both good and bad companies. The good ones need to be supported and encouraged to do more and the bad ones need to be pressured to change. Since we are all consumers and not all environmentalists (yet), the future of green business depends heavily on our individual choices, especially when those choices deal with your education, career path and how you spend the money you make. This places a great deal of power in your hands. Choose wisely because the greening of business might just be our best hope towards solving the climate crisis and getting Kermit to change the lyrics in his song.