Mark Andrew, a former Hennepin County Board Chair and former chair of the Minnesota DFL Party, is the owner of GreenMark, a leading environmental marketing agency. GreenMark, the originator of the Minnesota Twins/Pentair Rain Water Recycle partnership, is currently finalizing the state's largest solar energy installation while delivering sustainable results on behalf of leading brands, nonprofits, public agencies and the public.

Companies collaborate on climate and commerce

Posted by: Mark Andrew Updated: June 10, 2014 - 5:57 PM

Today I am filled with joy and optimism because tomorrow we will suddenly awaken to a world that will be clean, safe and secure forevermore.

Not really.

But short of that we should be upbeat about the future, as American corporate leadership continues its slow, steady, inexorable pace of getting on board with sustainability.

The Sustainable Brands conference, a gathering of 2,500 of the world's top brands from dozens of countries, NGO's and environmental advocates frolicking in the hot tub of diverse perspectives and shared ideals, just completed its annual meeting, in San Diego.

I missed it this year but not the 7th annual State of Green Business Report that gives us a snapshot of the world's progress on corportate behavior and attitudes about sustainability. 

Two things caught my eye.

The first is that corporate leaders seem to be finally figuring out that cleaning up their own companies is good for business. KPMG surveys this sort of thing. They report a surge in "corporate sustainability reporting" among the world's largest firms--a good sign--along with a measured increase in environmental activism among CEO's--an even better one.

The second hopeful trend is that firms are learning to collaborate to achieve sustainability goals. 

General Motors, once a laggard in green auto technology, is partnering with Honda to develop hydrogen fuel cells for cars. Ocean Spray and rival Tropicana take their empty delivery trucks to haul each others products up and down the East Coast, to save money and energy. Ford, Heinz, Nike, P&G and Unilever got together to form the Bioplastics Feedstock Alliance, encouraging the development of plastics from plant matter to address packaging concerns.  McDonald's approached competitors to begin to define "sustainable beef" standards for the betterment of the industry, the animals, their customers--and the environment.

Brands are figuring out that these alliances for sustainable practices are good for everybody. They strengthen supply chains, reduce operating costs, stabilize prices, enhance their reputations and preserve the natural capital that is still available for business expansion. 

Google's top engineer is a renaissance guy named Ray Kurzweil, progenitor of the Law of Accelerating Returns, which states that people tend to overestimate what can be accomplished in the short run but underestimate what can be achieved long term, after a trend hits a certain inflection point. 

Maybe this sunny outlook helps explain the stunning growth of renewable energy, projected to account for fully 70% of our increased energy production between now and 2030, with the dinosaur fuels and nuclear accounting for just 25%. Or the fact that "green tech" patent applications have doubled in the past 5 years, a resounding testament to the innovation imbedded in the human spirit.  

There are obviously enormous environmental issues plaguing the world due to runaway commerce, governmental sloth and over 7 billion people. Many of the dire predictions of global environmental catastrophe have been reinforced by recent scientific analysis. There is plenty for us to worry about. 

But there are reasons for us to worry a lot less than we might. 

Business may not yet have bought the argument that sustainability is helping to save humanity, but they are clearly attuned to the newly discovered realization that grime does not pay. Measured in purely economic terms, the business case for sustainability has been made. 

For now, maybe that should be good enough. 

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