Today, ‘green’ has become a fashion statement of sorts. Everyday, we’re constantly reminded to “go green” — use less energy, shrink our carbon footprint, save the Earth, etc. Over the last few years, the word “green” has gained a definition that goes way beyond color. Today, “green” has established itself in our vocabulary as an adjective, noun and verb, not to mention a movement.
The term “going green” can mean different things to different companies. To some, green means recyclable. To others, green means free of potentially harmful chemicals. But in reality, many green-leaning businesses, families, and governments are still fiddling while the planet burns. Why? Because implementing sustainability is brutally difficult.
Going Green and Being Sustainable – related phrases, but different meanings. However, the words “green” and “sustainable” are often used interchangeably, and sustainable has a more precise meaning that is often obscured, distorted, and diluted by the commercialization and marketing of the green “movement”.
• “Going green” means to pursue knowledge and practices that can lead to more environmentally friendly and ecologically responsible decisions and lifestyles, which can help protect the environment and sustain its natural resources for current and future generations.
• Sustainability, on the other hand, is often defined as managing the triple bottom line – a process by which companies manage their financial, social and environmental risks, obligations and opportunities. These three impacts are sometimes referred to as profits, people and planet.
Generally, sustainable products and activities are subject to a higher standard of performance because of “future” factors. For example, a car can be considered “green” simply because it manages to deliver 40 miles per gallon of gasoline. But it’s not sustainable for us to be extracting fossil fuels from the earth and burning them at current rates.
Sustainability values form the basis of the strategic management, process the costs and benefits of the firm’s operations, and are measured against the survival needs of the planets stakeholders. Sustainability is the core value because it supports a strategic vision of firms in the long term by integrating economic profits with the responsibility to protect the environment; as there is no economy, unless there is a planet.
Just like the term “green,” “sustainability” encompasses a broad range of activities and issues. While both terms are associated with environmentalism and living in ways that are less harmful to the planet, green doesn’t always mean sustainable, and what’s “green” isn’t always that good.
So what does this mean for business operations? It means they must define their green/sustainability goals, implement these changes and then measure their success. An understanding of what makes companies survive will help sustainability managers embed their programs more effectively. If they are not concerned with whether or not their company can stay in business, all the good green and community work could disappear at the whim of the market.