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Get Your Green On: An Obama Advisor Tells You How

green-business-110415-02 Credit: Dreamstime

The green movement is here to stay and for small business owners that means finding ways to implement green technologies or risk losing clients and sales to companies that do.

Daniel Esty is the chairman of Esty Environmental Partners, a professor at Yale University and Director of the Center for Business and the Environment at Yale. He is also the co-author of “The Green to Gold Business Playbook: How to Implement Sustainability Practices for Bottom-Line Results in Every Business Function” (Wiley, April 2011). He tells BusinessNewsDaily why it’s more important than ever for companies to focus on the environment and what it was like to advice the Obama campaign on environmental issues.

BusinessNewsDaily: For businesses to have continued success in today’s environment has going green gone from being an option to being essential?

Daniel Esty: A focus on environment and sustainability has become a business imperative. Every company whether large or small, whether in manufacturing or services now needs to think about its environmental footprint and how to connect with its customers on a range of environment and sustainability issues.

BND: What advantages and opportunities do businesses gain when they go green?

DE: As our book demonstrates, there are a variety of advantages to having a green strategy. For many companies, the greatest opportunities come through a focus on eco-efficiency, where they find ways to bring down energy consumption and other environment-related costs. Other companies are finding better ways to manage environment-related risks, and some companies are finding ways to connect with their customers – driving sales and growing revenues. Other companies have started to build their brand and corporate identity with an environment or sustainability element as part of their image in the marketplace.

BND: What are the biggest environmental issues small business owners face today?

DE: Small business owners face the same challenges that bigger companies do. In particular, they need to find ways to bring down their energy costs especially as prices are going up. So a focus on eco-efficiency is likely to pay dividends for small as well as big companies. In addition, many small businesses are finding they can attract new environment-minded customers with a focus on selling more natural, healthy, or safe products. So we now see “green” businesses in almost every category from dry cleaners to taxis to lawn care companies.

BND:  What is the biggest mistake business leaders make when they choose to go green?

DE: Business leaders have come to realize that there are many opportunities to find eco-advantage from their green strategies, but the real payoffs come for those who are business-like in how they pursue these opportunities. To derive marketplace success from a green strategy, companies must be careful in their analyses and really work to understand where green commitments will pay off.

Daniel Etsy

BND: When a small business makes the decision to go green how much time and money is invested in the process?

DE: The time and effort needed to deliver a successful green strategy varies a great deal from company to company and industry to industry. But we think book provides a step-by-step approach for any company in any industry. We break down the actions needed by business functions, which each getting a separate chapter. So anyone with specific responsibilities within a company can find information relevant to the next steps they should take. Moreover, we've separated out basic, intermediate, and advanced sustainability  “plays” so that companies that those just getting started with the process will get guidance on first steps and those further along will be given lists of intermediate or advanced plays to pursue.

BND: What are some of the services Esty Environmental Partners offers to its clients?

DE: EEP offers a range of environmental services and strategy support for companies that are looking to bring a focus on environment or sustainability into their operations. We begin with a set of analytic tools designed to help companies better understand the issues they need to address, explore the stakeholders with whom they need to connect, and determine where the opportunities for eco-advantage might be. In addition, we help companies understand the regulatory challenges they face, think through opportunities to build customer loyalty around environmental concerns, and build their brands with a commitment to environmental leadership.

BND: What is the one thing that you would want every CEO to take from your book and relay back to their employees?

DE: At the heart of the Green to Gold Business Playbook lies the logic of understanding the evolution of environmental issues and sustainability from a peripheral concern based on “corporate social responsibility ” into a business imperative and an essential element of corporate strategy. Today's business leaders recognize that the environment can be an upside opportunity. They see ways to reduce costs, narrow environmental risks, better connect with customers, and build a positive image into their corporate identity and brand.

BND: Do you see the future being saturated with so many new green technologies that business leaders will become overwhelmed?

DE: No — I think there's no risk that we'll be overwhelmed by new green technologies. There are a lot of environmental challenges that need to be addressed from safer drinking water to healthier food to reducing energy consumption and limiting our exposure to climate change. So there's lots of space for many different companies to bring good ideas and technology breakthroughs to bear. I think there will be issues that will require attention in terms of helping people understand the best particular technology or opportunities for their specific challenges, but I'm confident that we'll be able to get good information to business leaders so that they can sort out the choices and make good decisions.

BND: What was the most exciting part of being an environmental advisor on Obama’s presidential campaign?

DE: I very much enjoyed the opportunity to help candidate Obama redefine what the environmental future might look like. In particular, we began to see a shift from understanding environmental protection in the old model of command and control regulation and move toward a future where economic incentives would be more important and the policy structure would aim to harness market forces. I think the President has faced a challenge in trying to execute on this agenda with so many of the other things the administration has had to do. But I'm hopeful that in the years ahead, we will see a push toward a clean–technology-based, innovation-focused environmental future, including a major commitment to clean energy.

BND: How long do you think it will take for the green movement to become a permanent fixture in the corporate culture of every business?

DE: Many companies have already begun to make environmental issues and sustainability a part of their everyday corporate culture. There are, of course, some number of companies that still need help in understanding the logic of bringing sustainability into their strategy. But I think that the sustainability imperative, as I like to call it, is becoming more and more evident every day. So I think that we will see within a few years virtually every company, big or small, and no matter what industry with environment and sustainability as part of its core vision of how to operate and how to succeed in the marketplace.