April 15, 2015

Corporations help to save the earth

Helping to save earth. Credit: Andres Nieto Porros / Flickr Creative Commons

Many Americans - 71% in a recent Pew poll - say the U.S. should do whatever it can to protect the environment. But taking action on a personal level may be much tougher, says Andrew Winston, author of the The Big Pivot,

“Look, we’ve had Earth Days for 45 years and we’ve asked consumers to have this big change in how they buy things, and it hasn’t really happened.”

Winston thinks the real shift in saving the Earth might not come from individuals, but from a less-expected entity: large corporations. The pressure to change is increasingly flowing from business to business, with big retailers like Walmart and Target demanding more of all their product suppliers.

In response to emissions guidelines, Ford overhauled much of their product line, taking into account environmental impact. They also rolled out a new aluminum truck, which will have a reduced carbon footprint.

Companies have the power to change consumer behavior by simply not offering another option. 

“It’s not exactly that people are saying, 'Give me a greener product with a lot less packaging,' but they’re happy to buy it when it’s there, at the same price and quality," Winston explains.

Take IKEA, which completely stopped stocking less environmentally-conscious lights, and now only sells LED bulbs. Though Winston points out that IKEA is a private company with no shareholders to answer to, meaning that it’s easier for them to make a unilateral move.

Ford and IKEA aren’t exactly corporations that spring to mind when you think of disruptive environmental innovation. But Winston cautions that tech companies - which often have no physical products and might therefore seem environmentally harmless - are far less environmentally conscious than it appears. Swiping left on Tindr may appear to be innocuous, but data processing uses a lot of resources. In fact, if the Cloud were a country, it would have the fifth largest energy-consumption rate in the world.

Winston does see change coming, though. Consumer preference for eco-conscious goods is starting to mount; Americans already appear to be more likely to buy a product if they believe it’s ‘green’. And then there's the business-to-business pressure that could prove to be an under-the-radar advocate for the environment.

“I put my faith, good or bad, in companies to take the lead,” Winston says.

Funding for Innovation Hub's environmental and sustainability reporting is provided by The Kendeda Fund: furthering the values that contribute to a healthy planet.

Culture. green, Andrew Winston, Earth day, Kara Miller

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