31
January

Can The iPad Revolutionize Rural Agriculture?

The high-tech gadget is finding fans in an unlikely place: rural farms, where it can be used for everything from training to creating a connection between the farmers and customers in the developed world.

The iPad is a luxury toy. It’s also a powerful, adaptable tool. That much has become obvious over the past two years as the device has made its way into classrooms, cockpits, and hospitals.

The iPad’s fairly steep price, however, has kept it firmly entrenched in the developed world. That’s starting to change, as evidenced by efforts from Exprima Media and coffee importer Sustainable Harvest to bring the iPad to coffee co-ops and farmers in East Africa, Mexico, and South America.

Over the past two years, Exprima and Sustainable Harvest have unveiled a suite of efficiency and traceability iPad apps–the Relationship Information Tracking System (RITS) suite–for coffee farmers in the developing world. The companies don’t market directly to farmers; instead, they sell to coffee co-ops, which either purchase the iPads themselves or seek out third-party-funded grants.

The RITS Ed app, piloted this year, features over two hours of training videos in a variety of languages related to everything from agronomy best practices to growing protein-rich mushrooms out of coffee production waste. “The people we work with have limited infrastructure, and dialing up YouTube is not a reality,” says Debra Rosenthal, Director of Technology Development for Sustainable Harvest. “The training videos featuring industry experts, so we’re putting experts in the hands of trainers that work for those co-ops.” In 2011, seven Tanzanian farmers used the app to train their fellow local farmers. They were able to train an incredible 106 farmers in a month.

The RITS Producer app, a supply chain management program that has been used in Tanzania since 2010, allows producers to track the coffee they process–how much is produced, how it’s milled, payments received, and where its final destination is located. This past year, Sustainable Harvest sold some raw coffee beans to Allegro Coffee (the Whole Foods coffee brand) for sampling. The company stuck a QR code on the back, so that when the quality control manager at Allegro received it, he could see scan the bag and see all the coffee roasters involved, the ratings of various coffees that came from the co-op, and more. “It’s an unprecedented level of transparency in what has historically been an opaque supply chain,” says Rosenthal.

This replaces what used to be a suitcase of papers on the back of an agronomist’s motorcycle.”

Finally, the RITS Metrics app, first piloted in Tanzania this year, allows agronomists or other coffee co-op leaders to speed up the third-party certification process by storing surveys from members offline. When the farmers return to a place that has an Internet connection (the coffee co-op headquarters, for example) the information is uploaded to a cloud server. “This replaces what used to be a suitcase of papers on the back of an agronomist’s motorcycle,” explains Rosenthal.

There’s a reason that these apps haven’t been customized for cheaper netbooks instead of the pricey iPad: The learning curve to master the iPad is much shorter than that of traditional computers because the device is so intuitive. It’s also proving to be an attractive tool to keep the younger generation interested in farming–the iPad is easy to use as a training tool and it’s hard to deny the “cool” factor. “We went to Peru and introduced the RITS app to co-op employees. The president of the co-op got emotional and started talking about how he saw this as way of engaging children and women to keep them in agriculture,” says Corey Pressman, president of Exprima Media. Score another point for the iPad: the gadget that’s preserving agricultural traditions.

This article was written by Ariel Schwartz and published in Sustainable Life Media. She is an Assistant Editor at FastCompany.com.  She has also contributed to SF Weekly, Popular Science, Inhabitat, Greenbiz, NBC Bay Area, GOOD …plus many more.

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25
January

Five Principles of a Sustainable Business Model

Do most shareholders believe they make enough money? Probably not. With Exxon’s 2010 profits at $41B, shareholders are still clamoring for more. And, the easiest way to grow profits is to grow the business.

Yet, the natural environmental cannot accommodate more industrial growth. Our natural resources are being extracted and disposed of faster than they can be renewed. Nowhere is this more evident than with fossil fuels. The more fossil fuels we extract, the more that ends up in our air, water and landfills as either carbon emissions or as byproducts and waste.

The fact that the natural environment is not on the minds of most managers is not entirely surprising. Many business professors still teach the 1970’s doctrine of Milton Friedman: “The social responsibility of business is to increase its profits”. Growth, therefore, is at the heart of the business model. But the foundation of this model was developed at a time when we didn’t comprehend the natural limits to growth.

Business sustainability tackles these issues head on. Many business advocates translate business sustainability into the triple bottom line: firms are expected to manage the social, environmental and financial implications of their actions. The triple bottom line encourages firms to seek win-wins, where they search for profitable activities that benefit society and the environment.

But, most managers recognize that such win-wins are elusive, especially in the short-term. And as shareholder scrutiny intensifies, managers are under even greater pressure to show consistently high and growing profits each quarter. What’s more, the triple bottom line advises firms what to measure, but not how to manage. It does not tell managers how to organize their business and how to make important tradeoffs. The triple bottom line is still grounded in the short term and in the existing business model.

I believe part of the answer is in recasting business sustainability as resilience. Resilience not only recognizes the importance of profits, but also values longevity and bouncing back from shocks. It shifts the paradigm from business-centric to recognizing that businesses are part of a wider system – a resilient business requires resilient relationships.

Based in systems theory, approaching sustainability as resilience reveals some important insights into organizational forms, some of which I describe below.

  1. Diversity.

    The firm needs a diverse set of resources, people and investments to be resilient. While diverse investments are seen to draw on resources and absorb managerial attention, a single line of business, single sources of revenues, or people with similar mindsets can expose the firm to greater risks. Firms can no longer simply ‘stick to the knitting’.

  2. Modularity.

    Matrixed organizations are often seen as facilitating knowledge flows. However, such organizations are not only resource intensive, they expose the whole organization to shocks as they reverberate through the organization. Organizations need to be less interdependent, and focus on modularity, so they can be insulated from shocks.

  3. Openness.

    Resilient firms must know what’s going on outside their boundaries. These firms can sense issues on the horizon. They are constantly monitoring the external environment, and drawing scenarios of possible futures. They expect not only to react to those potential futures, but also help to shape them. The link between the organization and the external business and natural environment is vital, permeable, and malleable.

  4. Slack resources.

    In an era of just-in-time production, slack resources are often seen as costly and wasteful. However, innovation and adaptation requires both financial and creative investments, and the space to change direction. Firms that can ride storms must allow for a little more time to accommodate new ideas, scenarios, and shifts in thinking.

  5. Matching cycles.

    Firms often think about optimizing performance and getting more from less. But, this thinking puts firms on a treadmill, doing the same thing faster every day—and, it has them bumping up against resource constraints. Resilient businesses think, not about constant growth, but rather about cyclical processes: cycles of growth and contraction, cycles of production, and cycles of consumer purchase patterns. Understanding the rhythms of business and the environment will allow the firm to synchronize with them meaningfully, and not overreact to what is likely just a cycle.

These ideas need to developed and tested. But, they offer a starting place for dialogue for a 21st century business model based on sustainability.

This article was written by Tima Bansal for the Network for Business Sustainability, December 2011.

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17
January

A Vision of Real Corporate Leadership on Sustainability

The basics of sustainability excellence are fairly well known by now:  reduce your footprint, create products and services that help customers do the same, drive employee engagement, think value chain, track data and enable transparency, and on and on.   But real leaders will go further and address the scale of the sustainability challenges we face by fundamentally remaking their companies.  Here’s what  is envisioned in a few key areas:

Science-Based Goals

Footprint reduction targets are important, but if the goals are not based on what scientists tell us – i.e., we need an 80% reduction in absolute greenhouse gas emissions – they’re not good enough.  Sony and a few others have targeted zero impact by 2050.  This level of commitment needs to become the norm, and then a few brave souls can go beyond reducing harm (even to zero) and set goals to build restorative enterprises.

Policy

While uncommon today, the basic level of performance on policy should be to make lobbying efforts consistent with core business strategy and public messaging (for example, are you proudly launching products that use less energy, yet lobbying hard against higher efficiency standards?).  Real leaders go much further and lobby for stricter standards and aggressive action on climate.  CEOs can demonstrate their external leadership by promoting this agenda with corporate peers and government leaders.  Some companies are on track, committing to the recent “2 Degree Challenge Communiqué” or joining groups like BICEP (led by Ceres, Nike, and others) which demand strong climate policy action.

Product and Service Innovation

Reducing the customer’s footprint will need to be the core aim of all innovation efforts and all product lines (not just a sliver of the portfolio as it is today).  Sustainability innovators will open up their creativity process, inviting customers and partners to offer innovative solutions (GE’s Ecomagination Challenge is a good example).  Innovators will embrace disruption and heresy (which I’ve written about before) by helping customers use less of their products. For a glimpse of the future, see Unilever’s campaigns to get customers to reduce water use and Patagonia’s Common Threads, which offers a grand bargain: “We make useful gear that lasts a long time…You don’t buy what you don’t need.”

Valuation and Investments: Financial and Operational Metrics

Leaders such as P&G and GE have set aggressive revenue targets for their greener products.  A few companies put a price on carbon for internal capital allocation decisions or, like DuPont and Owens Corning, set aside a percentage of capex for eco-efficiency investments.  These actions help correct the inherent flaws of ROI decision-making by valuing sustainability more explicitly.  The next step is fully incorporating intangible value – employee engagement, customer loyalty, brand value, and the like – as well as measuring and including all externalized costs in investment decisions.  Two trendsetters, Puma and Dow, have begun this important journey.

Investor Relations

I believe that the relentless pursuit of short-term, quarterly profit goals to please Wall Street analysts is bad for companies – great enterprises very rarely seek profit alone – and certainly isn’t good for the planet.  Like Unilever’s CEO Paul Polman, the real leaders will stop providing quarterly guidance and ask managers to focus on the real measures of success: making great products, serving customer needs, creating good jobs, and driving both cash flow and long-term profitability.  The most sustainable companies will become “benefit companies” or “B Corps”, with a broader charter than just pursuing shareholder value.  Seek greatness and sustainability, and the money will follow.

Resources Dedicated

Most companies give their sustainability execs woefully inadequate resources to do their stated jobs, let alone transform their companies.  A truly committed organization will allocate resources equal to the challenge and will give the sustainability function real power.   I suggest creating a “skunk works” team run by sustainability, along with perhaps corporate strategy and R&D, to question everything and challenge the core business model (e.g., What if the product were a service? What if we used no fossil fuels?).  This is how companies can systematize heretical innovation.

Employee Engagement

Educating all employees on sustainability principles and creating green teams are good first steps.  Tying all executive compensation directly, and substantially, to sustainability goals is even better.  But real leaders should work to convince those hostile to change throughout the organization…or eliminate them.  In the words of Jim Collins in Good to Great, “get the right people on (and off) the bus.”  Leaders will also help employees pursue sustainability in their own lives and communities and provide an outlet for organizing campaigns, such as the awareness-raising “climate ride” conducted by apparel company Eileen Fisher.  If the workplace is appropriate for United Way drives, why not for climate action?

In short, I’m imagining a very different kind of company. The overwhelming challenges we face demand profound shifts.  Of course, much more than I’ve mentioned will need to change – on the social side of the equation for sure – so please let me know what you would add to my vision of true leadership.


Andrew Winston, founder of Winston Eco-Strategies, is the author of Green Recovery, a strategic plan for using environmental thinking to survive hard economic times. He is also the co-author of Green to Gold, the best-selling guide to what works – and what doesn’t – when companies go green. Andrew is a globally recognized expert on green business, appearing regularly in major media such as The Wall Street Journal, Time, BusinessWeek, New York Times, and CNBC. Andrew is dedicated to helping companies both large and small use environmental strategy to grow, create enduring value, and build stronger relationships with employees, and customers.

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11
January

Defining and Developing Personal and Brand Leadership

We begin 2012 with an inquiry into how personal and brand leadership is evolving to serve both thriving businesses and a flourishing world. The question of what leadership really looks like is vital; it’s getting clearer that tomorrow’s winners will require the skills for both creating profits and nourishing human and natural systems.

A December 14, 2011 opinion piece in the Wall Street Journal by Al Gore and David Blood notes that “businesses cannot be asked to do the job of governments, but companies and investors will ultimately mobilize most of the capital needed to overcome the unprecedented challenges we now face.”

A long line of thought leaders from Peter Drucker to Michael Porter tell us business is moving in this direction; and a growing number of corporations are leading the way, from IBM and GE in the U.S. to Unilever, Puma, Munich RE and Santander abroad.

So what is changing in the task of leadership? We believe that businesses in every sector are on the cusp of a new paradigm of sustainable value creation (which we have explored elsewhere), one that calls for a different type of leadership. In this opening piece, we attempt to quickly outline some of our ideas on the topic, as a framing exercise for the month ahead.

The broad thrust of the leadership change is toward more integration and broader thinking, serving not only shareholders but all stakeholders in ways that are value creating.  We’re moving beyond the basic business case for sustainability – creating value in a range of ways from cutting costs and mitigating risk to driving revenues and brand value – to include a personal and organizational commitment to leaving the world a better place. While the move toward systems thinking in management has been around at least since Peter Senge’s The Fifth Discipline, we see a qualitative change in the making, one that is best described as a shift to holistic thinking.

One pivotal change is the gradual merging of the outer dimension of leadership – focused on the external market forces that condition a company’s opportunities for profit and growth – with the inner dimension of leadership based on meaning, purpose, values and spirit. Another pivotal change is the gradual merging of personal leadership with organizational leadership, in other words, the individual leader’s beliefs and behaviors are becoming more integrated with the organization’s identity, strategy, and culture. As a result the proverbial need to “check in your values at the door” on the way to work is lessening as people work for companies that are committed to doing well and doing good (the point being, these two are not at odds).

We visually map this evolution to greater integration in Figure 1 (hey, as consultants we need a good 2 x 2 matrix to tell our story).  We’ll each post a piece on what external (Andrew) and internal (Chris) leadership looks like, but we want to lay out the core components here. The point is not that leadership tomorrow is about choosing one level or dimension over another. Instead, it is about playing in all four quadrants. Good leaders and strong brands embed sustainability for business advantage in terms that respond to external pressures and consider the full value chain of their impacts, risks, and opportunities and convey to external partners and customers a clear vision.  These leaders also develop internal capabilities, such as culture, mission, and values at both the personal and organizational levels. The holy grail of consistency across all these levels we call holistic leadership.

Figure 1

To understand how fragmented have been past leadership approaches, consider where the work of the following authors maps onto Figure 1. Jim Collins’ Level 5 Leadership, described in his best seller Good to Great, is primarily at the external-facing personal level (lower left). Michael Porter’s Shared Value idea is primarily at the organizational level and external dimension (upper left) with its focus on market forces and strategic response. Our own works – Sustainable Value/Embedded Sustainability (Laszlo) and Green to Gold/Green Recovery (Winston) have largely focused on the microeconomic and organizational levels in the top half of Figure 1. Meanwhile, a growing strand of spiritual leadership authors such as L.W. Fry (“Toward a Theory of Spiritual Leadership”, The Leadership Quarterly, 2003) and Otto Scharmer (“Uncovering the Blind Spot of Leadership”, Leader to Leader, Winter 2008) have focused on the personal level and internal dimension (bottom right).

It is our contention that few thinkers and even fewer practitioners effectively operate in all four quadrants. The shift from systemic to holistic thinking may sound like just another conceptual distinction but, we believe a new kind of personal and brand leadership is in the works.  This shift will be at the heart of tomorrow’s sustainable business success.

¹ By mega-forces (in Figure 1), we are referring to increased resource constraints, climate-induced weather pressures, transparency demands, higher expectations of stakeholders along the end-to-end value chain, and tougher environmental and social regulation.


Andrew Winston, founder of Winston Eco-Strategies, is the author of Green Recovery, a strategic plan for using environmental thinking to survive hard economic times. He is also the co-author of Green to Gold, the best-selling guide to what works – and what doesn’t – when companies go green. Andrew is a globally recognized expert on green business, appearing regularly in major media such as The Wall Street Journal, Time, BusinessWeek, New York Times, and CNBC. Andrew is dedicated to helping 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 have included Bank of America, Bayer, HP, Pepsi, Boeing, and IKEA.


Chris Laszlo, Ph.D., is the author of Sustainable Value: How the World’s Leading Companies Are Doing Well by Doing Good (2008), Greenleaf Publishing and Stanford University Press, and The Sustainable Company (2003, paperback 2005), Island Press. He is an Associate Professor at Case Western Reserve University’s Weatherhead School of Management, where he is the Faculty Research Director at the Fowler Center for Sustainable Value. Chris is also the co-founder and Managing Partner of Sustainable Value Partners, LLC, an advisory services firm specialized in sustainability for business advantage.

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9
January

Five Trends Shaping Sustainable Brands in 2012

A few weeks ago, Raphael Bemporad, Principal of BBMG of NYC had the opportunity to grab lunch with a good friend, and renowned business guru Bob Bloom, to seek his advice as we looked ahead to the New Year.

“Looking ahead is useless,” he said in his typically wonderful, challenging way. In the context of market volatility, transformational new technologies and the exponential velocity of change, we have to instead “look around the corner.”

For Bob, success requires letting go of yesterday’s financials, five-point plans and outdated business models to bravely seize opportunities that are fiercely focused on leading innovation to create shared value.

It’s great advice. And, in the spirit of looking around the corner, we wanted to offer five trends that we believe will shape sustainable brands in 2012.

1. The Ubiquity of C2C

In 2012, we will experience a fundamental paradigm shift from a business-to-consumer (B2C) marketplace to a consumer-to-business (C2B) and consumer-to-consumer (C2C) marketplace—where creating, buying, selling and sharing products and services will increasingly be driven by consumers themselves.

This is happening in the context of radical personalization, collaborative consumption and co-creativity, where brand purchases and experiences are dis-intermediated by traditional brands and retailers and unleashed via new technologies and platforms (from Good Guide to Etsy to Getaround) that firmly place more power in the hands of consumers.

Success now means rethinking sales channels toward more direct interaction and inviting consumers in to imagine, create and extend how our brands live in the world.

Figure 1. Etsy’s explosive growth has been fueled by an increasing consumer appetite for radical personalization and co-creativity.

2. The Rise of Generation “Why?”

The rise of the C2C marketplace is driven in part by the influence of values-aspirational, practically minded New Consumers looking for brands that deliver total value: products that work well, cost less, last longer and do some good.

Youthful, educated, wired and mostly female, this New Consumer is asking “why” they should care about brands; and, if they can’t find what they’re looking for, “why not” just create the solutions themselves? New Consumers are more practical and more purposeful, and they’re not willing to wait.

And, with billions of these New Consumers entering the marketplace in developing economies, the key question will be whether brands can reach and delight them—beyond just more consumption—to inspire responsible purchases and deeper participation with health, happiness and sustainability in mind.

Figure 2. A favorite among New Consumers, Warby Parker delivers total value: stylish, practical, reasonably priced eyeglasses that also provide societal benefit.

3. The Race to Relationship

Thanks to Groupon and its countless competitors, 2011’s year of the deal saw virtually every brand category join an unfortunate race to the lowest-price bottom that is destroying brand value, reducing consumers to commodities and undermining our shared, long-term success.

Sure, we dig deals and we always will. Yet by focusing so relentlessly on unsustainable price discounts, we undermine the very potential for our brands to do more and mean more for our customers.

Instead, we believe 2012 will see a race to relationship, where the most successful brands will break free of the lowest-price trap and deliver more value by empowering consumers with better products and experiences and championing their success. ­Patagonia’s disruptive Don’t Buy This Jacket campaign highlights this commitment to creating enduring products and relationships by promising to make “useful gear that lasts a long time” and inviting us to reduce, repair, reuse, recycle and reimagine how and what we consume together.

As one of our favorite clients says, “We don’t want a one-night-stand with our customers. We want long-term love affairs.”

Figure 3. Patagonia’s brave Cyber Monday campaign focused on long-term impact instead of a quick sales bump.

4. The Imperative of Sustainable Brand Innovation

Whether it’s reducing resource risks in supply chains, driving efficiencies into workflows or reaping the rewards of increased transparency and corporate reputation, we believe sustainable brand innovation offers unmatched opportunity for exponential value creation for business, consumers, society and our planet.

In 2012, sustainable brands large and small will increasingly connect consumers, brand teams, suppliers and subject-matter experts in the innovation process to embed sustainability and social purpose into every business strategy, product design and stakeholder relationship.

Creating better brands, products, packaging and platforms, the highest performing companies will integrate practical, environmental and tribal benefits in every new offering—therefore becoming agents of change at a faster speed and larger scale than ever before.

Figure 4. The Neutrogena Naturals brand embraces innovation through partnerships with the Linus Paling Institute, technology scouts and experts in various health and science fields.

5: The Evolution from Occupy to Engage

If the most emblematic word of 2011 was “occupy,” we believe the word of 2012 will be “engage.”

With an existential howl against the status quo, the global Occupy movement represents a deep yearning for a new way of doing business that replaces short-term, transactional, profit-only thinking with a more responsible, transparent and equitable economy that creates more value for more people in more ways.

In 2012, there is good reason to believe that sustainable brands can lead the way.

In states from California to Maryland to New York, B Corporations are engaging policymakers to pass legislation that recognizes (and incentivizes) corporate accountability to all stakeholders: investors, consumers, employees, community members and the environment.

The Harvard Business Review hails the benefits of “The Good Company” that combines financial and social logic into its operations by engaging employees, partners and community institutions in building enduring value and success.

Meanwhile, pioneering brands from Levi’s to Coca Cola to Nike are engaging consumers so they spend less, enjoy more and take action on issues that improve our shared future—from protecting safe drinking water to preserving endangered habitats to creating more opportunities for the producers of their products around the world.

 

Figure 5. Brand as movement: Levi’s Water<Less jeans go beyond a disruptive manufacturing process to a cause partnership with Water.org and tips helping consumers save water.

As we enter a new year and look around the corner, we believe the most successful brands will meet the needs, hopes and aspirations of New Consumers; build more respectful, collaborative and enduring relationships with all stakeholders; and unleash our collective co-creativity to bring better, smarter and more impactful ideas to life in ways that create shared value for all.

An article written by Raphael Bemporad, Principal at BBMG of NYC for Sustainable Life Media

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5
January

Green Mountain Coffee To Test Waste-To-Energy Technology

 

Green Mountain Coffee Roasters – known for its Keurig brand of individual coffee cups – may soon be able to turn its waste stream into a source of power for its Vermont operations.

The Energy & Environmental Research Center (EERC) at the University of North Dakota is working with Wynntryst, LLC, an energy solutions company based in South Burlington, Vermont, to develop a gasification power system for the company.

The project specifically focuses on converting Green Mountain’s coffee residues, plastic packaging, paper, cloth or burlap, and plastic cups into an energy source.

“This project is an extension of work performed by the EERC for NASA, which explored the conversion of waste from a space station and future Martian and lunar bases into heat and power,” says EERC Deputy Associate Director for Research Chris Zygarlicke. “This project will similarly utilize a mostly renewable and bio-based waste and convert it into electricity for the coffee industry.”

“The first step of the project is to demonstrate that we can gasify the complex mixture of waste and produce clean synthetic gas, or syngas, by utilizing the EERC’s novel advanced fixed-bed gasifier (AFBG) system on the biomass–residue mixture,” says Project Manager and Research Scientist, Nikhil Patel.

The syngas will then either be utilized in an internal combustion engine or a fuel cell for efficient production of electricity and heat or be converted to high-value biofuels or chemicals. The pilot-scale tests will evaluate the quality of syngas that can be produced from the Green Mountain waste.

“Over the years, the EERC has developed and tested numerous small gasifier systems like this on a variety of biomass feedstocks,” Zygarlicke said. “The EERC system has already produced power by gasifying forest residues, railroad tie chips, turkey litter, and other biomass feedstocks and burning the produced syngas in an on-site engine generator. The coffee industry residues will be similarly tested.”

The EERC will use the outcome of the pilot-scale efforts to propose a full-scale commercial demonstration system for installation at various Green Mountain sites.

 

Bart King is a PR consultant and principal at Cleantech Communications, and a regular contributor to Sustainable Life Media.

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4
January

Five Mega-Trends Creating 2012′s Trillion Dollar Global Sustainable Economy

2012 will be the milestone year that the US economy demonstrates sustained economic growth through adoption of 21st century’s sustainable solutions. Earth 2017‘s economic model estimates that sustainable product solutions have now achieved the breakthrough trillion dollars per year in global annual revenues level and is on the path toward achieving $10 trillion of annual global revenues by 2017.

Here are the five mega-trend drivers behind 2012’s sustainable economic growth:

1. Energy efficiency is #1 in ROI. The Return On Investment (ROI) on US 10 year bonds is 2 percent and the 2011 Standard and Poor 500 stock index closed the year with zero appreciation. Energy efficiency investments now offer 10-50 percent ROIs making them the superior investment available today in the United States.

Two fuel price trends are driving these superior returns for energy efficiency investments. The first is that 2011 marked the first time in US history that the average price of gasoline did not fall below $3 per gallon and diesel prices did not fall below $4 per gallon.

The second major fuel trend is the continuing rise in electricity prices. Electricity rates continue their long-term upward path driven by higher coal prices and the increased cost of pollution controls on coal fired power plants. In addition, the aging of the electrical grid and pressure to adopt smart technologies mean utilities are cash strapped and must request for higher rates to fund investments.

In response to electricity price inflation 52 percent of US companies report targeting a 25 percent reduction of their electricity consumption by 2014. The pain at the pump is now energizing the US automobile industry to act with new new models like the Chevrolet Cruze, Hyundai Elantra and Ford Focus. These vehicles with MPG over 35 mpg are succeeding in the market with sales up over 40 percent. The most telling trend-indicator of all maybe the successful IPO of Zipcar, a car sharing program.

2. Green supply chain is driving global economic growth. Corporations, not governments, are now driving the push toward sustainability as they harvest increasingly significant profit growth through design and process innovations that cut production, delivery, packaging and disposal costs while also reducing a company’s/product’s environmental footprint. This is a global trend led by international companies like Walmart, GE and Coca Cola. Its commercial impact is now evident in the increasing scale of Request For Proposal bid questions on sustainability metrics and performance results documentation. This global mega-trend is creating new revenue growth opportunities for smaller businesses that can offer price competitive lower environmental footprint products and solutions. It is also decentralizing decision-making as large corporations gain success using Green Teams to find and implement ideas that reduce costs and a company’s environmental footprint. Where CFOs once questioned the ROI of producing a corporate CSR report, the importance of these documents is now clear. CSR reports have an increasingly important role as a source document used by third parties that communicate to consumers and equity investors on the sustainability of a company and its products, which has an implicit impact on the bottom line. The combined impacts of the greening of the supply chain have now made this process the economic engine of the global sustainable economy.

3. Local farm to fork. Boomers are still the dominant economic force in America, accounting for 52 percent of the approximately $700 billion spent on groceries. Boomers are increasingly shifting their food procurement toward healthier choices in their lifelong quest for an “endless summer.” While still heavily influenced by price, convenience and mass marketing, the Boomer Generation is increasingly buying at farmers markets and adopting food gardening. Their mega buying power will accelerate the re-engineering of agriculture away from chemicals. It is also promoting Buy Local. Aligned with the Millennial Generation’s focus upon a healthy lifestyle these two mega-consumers will make 2012 a milestone year for moving the American food supply closer to a Local Farm To Fork supply chain.

4. “Smart” consumers bypassing the greenwashing explosion. 2012 will see a further explosion in greenwashing as 20th century unsustainable products attempt to align with the marketing power of smart, healthy and green labels. The boomerang of this increased greenwashing will be the acceleration in the consumer’s shift to their social networks for answers they view as authentic and transparent. 84 percent of moms now rely upon Facebook and 64 percent rely upon reading blogs to make their purchase decisions. The QR code accessed by a smart phone that links to third party assessments and analysis is emerging as the consumer’s information portal in evaluating price competitiveness, product claims and product safety. 2012 will see further acceleration of the “smart” consumer overpowering traditional brand marketing greenwashing.

5. Hispanic green leadership. The Hispanic community’s 50 million citizens now represent over 16 percent of the US population. Hispanic consumers have over $1 trillion of annual buying power. The US Hispanic community’s buying power is comparable in size to the GDP of South Korea, two-thirds the size of India and over twice the size of Turkey. The Hispanic community leads America in the new business start-ups and in new business start-ups by women.

Emerging market research now points to the Hispanic community also leading America in the green revolution. Led by their US Hispanic Chamber of Commerce the Hispanic business community is increasingly going green to lower costs, align with their Hispanic customers and win business with non-Hispanic businesses. The 2012 election year will see the Hispanic community gain increased influence at the ballot box and at the cash register as they align their vote and wallets with their strong sense of going green in behalf of their families and out of respect for their family values.

Excerpt written by Bill Roth for Triple Pundit, January 3, 2012

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