So it comes down to another semester here at the W.P. Carey School of Business. This semester I will be focusing more heavily on my sustainability blog and I plan to blog more often. I am really excited about this coming semester.
This semester I am taking Principals of International Business: so far I really like that class and I am really excited to learn more about globalization and business.
As far as sustainability classes go this semester I am taking an interesting class called “Global Health, Sustainability, and the Built Environment” I think this one is going to be really interesting. The class has an urban planning theme so I feel like I might be able to make some useful ties and intellectual connections between urban planning, sustainability, and business.
Also, this semester I am looking for my first internship, now that I am a junior I really want to start to gain some practical experience in the field by starting out with an internship. I think an internship with a sustainable focus would be great!
Now, back to a topic I was discussing before the break: my interview with ASU supply chain professor and sustainability expert Dr. Kevin Dooley.
The question I asked Dr. Dooley was this:
“I know that there are many people who are interested in sustainability and human-environmental interaction but among the experts there seems to be so much variation in their viewpoints and ideas. It is such a multifaceted issue. There are people who come from science backgrounds that have differing viewpoints on sustainability and climate change. There are people in economics that have differing viewpoints on the economic ramifications of sustainability. Also in business there are people who have very different viewpoints on how the green movement affects business. On one end business people may think that going green is a waste of money and a damper on free capitalism on the other hand some people feel that greening supply chains means saving resources anyways and thus saving money. I know that there are some companies that have fully adapted sustainability like Wal-Mart and it seems to be a competitive advantage for them while other business models are hardly sustainable and use the “green” platform on a limited basis and are really just green-washing. Can you provide some insight into all of this variability and elaborate on this idea a bit more?”
Dr. Dooley answered by providing me with a model of three different business approaches to sustainability. The first approach is called “Leading Adopters” which comprise 10% of firms. Leading Adopters use a sustainable approach as their main cost and revenue driver, it provides them access to special markets and talent early on before other firms catch on the sustainability bandwagon, therefore they can use it as a competitive advantage. Furthermore, leading adopters are focused on sustainability both upstream and downstream of their supply chains: they are focused on sustainability all the way through every element of their business processes and practices and sustainability applies to all of their products and services. These firms might also require that their sustainable projects result in a standard ROI. So basically a leading adopter will make sure that their whole business operation and model embraces sustainability: it is not just a singular platform to boost revenue.
The next business approach to sustainability is called “Early Majority” owing to 40% of firms. These firms may decide to go green as a risk avoidance issue or because sustainability is now catching on and these businesses want to jump on the trend. Usually these efforts are centrally planned and executed. As opposed to the leading adopters who incorporated sustainability all throughout their supply chains, the early majority’s efforts are largely focused internally. Instead of a strict bottom line ROI that sustainability efforts must produce, early majority firms sanction projects as part of their company-wide sustainability initiative. Lastly, early majority adopters don’t focus all of their products on being green but select services and aspects of the firm that they will make greener.
Finally, the last approach to sustainability is the “Late Majority” firms who really only go green to keep with the trends or due to compliance issues. Late Majority adopters comprise 50% of businesses that go green. These firms don’t see sustainability as a competitive advantage but as overhead and added costs that they must bear. Their efforts, company-wide, are unfocused and decentralized, projects to improve the green level of the company are pursued opportunistically instead of vigorously; due to this there may be last minute efforts to look more green that result in green-washing. Green-washing is making products look green when they really aren’t, or perhaps one aspect of the product is more sustainable but the product itself is, largely, not very environmentally friendly but appears to the consumer to be so.
In conclusion I must say I’m pretty bummed that 50% of business who take the green approach are Late Majority Adopters. That’s really depressing, basically that means they are half-ass at sustainability. Although, from a risk management standpoint I can see why leading adopters are so few and far between: in my opinion it’s because being a leading adopter involves an enormous amount of risk that not many companies are willing to take, it also likely involves a large outlay of capital investment to initiate, and, until fairly recently, going completely green was uncharted waters for most major firms.