Even in challenging economic times, mainstream businesses continue to invest in sustainability initiatives and set sustainability targets, a report produced by GreenBiz.com, a news and resource provider for green business in the US, has found.
The State of the Green Business Report 2011 measured the progress of US business and the economy from an environmental perspective and highlighted key trends in corporate culture with regard to the environment.
Joel Makower, executive editor of GreenBiz.com and principal author of the report, concluded that “companies are thinking bigger and longer-term about sustainability — a sea change from their otherwise notoriously incremental, short-term thinking.
“During 2010, we saw a steady march of progress, with some of the world’s biggest companies and brands putting a stake in the ground in the name of environmental and, sometimes, social sustainability,” he noted.
The report identified 10 larger green trends in US companies. First off, consumer packaged goods companies are reducing the amount of packaging used on a large scale. The packaging intensity measured as the amount of materials used per unit of GDP declined further in 2010. The use of paper continues to drop, while recycling has again increased.
Some companies even aim for zero waste targets in the manufacturing process, the report noted.
Bioplastics, meanwhile, continue to be developed and replace plastic as a biodegradable form of packaging.
Overall, the report noted an increase in products made from recyclable materials last year.
Greener forms of transportation are entering the market as electric and hybrid cars are becoming more popular, but also trucks, trains and planes are increasingly employing green technologies, GreenBiz said.
Additionally, the supply chains of US companies can no longer source products based on price alone. The question of sustainability and the issue of sourcing products and commodities from conflict zones, such as “conflict minerals”, are now on the radar of most US multinationals. This also extends to sustainable food sourcing as the commitments by Proctor & Gamble, Unilever and WalMart in the US show.
P&G introduced a Future Friendly campaign to raise awareness about greener products and practices, created an advisory panel of sustainability experts and launched a supplier scorecard. Unilever, in turn, launched a Sustainable Living plan that focuses on the company’s supply chain, beginning with farms as the suppliers of raw materials to products, emissions and waste generated by consumers who use the end products.
The report concluded that these firms had not suddenly become “tree huggers”, but that the initiatives are rather an extension of existing efforts to address stakeholder concerns, improve operational efficiencies or hedge risks related to petroleum use and greenhouse gas emissions.
Investments in green technologies through venture capital firms have increased slightly, whereas clean energy patents have grown substantially in 2010. The number of patents filed in the US jumped by 40 per cent in the last year, representing a massive surge of innovations, according to the news provider.
On the negative side the carbon intensity, emissions of energy-related carbon dioxide per unit of GDP, has risen slightly last year after years of decline.
At the same time electronic waste is growing faster than recyclers can handle, GreenBiz said.
In terms of green energy use, 2010 saw a mild surge in the US, despite a lack of political will to implement new initiatives or support alternative energy sources.
The situation in Cayman
The same can be said for Cayman, where CUC has introduced its new Consumer Owned Renewable Energy scheme to a mixed reception. While some argue that at least Cayman’s electricity provider is paying consumers more money to buy their self-generated power, critics said the deal is not attractive enough to incentivise consumers to turn to greener energy.
Businesses in Cayman have for the most part already gone for the low hanging fruits in order to reduce waste, recycle and save energy.
Recycling in the Cayman Islands is still limited by the lack of an island-wide recycling scheme. However, aluminium cans can already be recycled and places like the Humane Society, where old newspapers are used to line the animal crates, are grateful for all newspapers collected and dropped off by individuals and businesses.
Toner cartridges can be refilled at Cartridge Smart and car batteries and scrap metal, including computers, is collected, sorted and transported off island by Recycling Services based in East End.
Companies can quickly and easily set up a recycling programme for some of these items.
In the medium to long term, the arrival of a new landfill site and recycling facility, as indicated by the premier earlier this year, will enable a more extensive recycling of glass and plastics.
Plastics and Styrofoam as packaging materials pose a range of problems for the environment. New forms of packaging from renewable sources, for example plant-based materials, are often a readily available alternative.
Supermarkets in the Cayman Islands have led the way in avoiding plastic bags and Styrofoam deli food containers by replacing them with biodegradable plastic or reusable bags and biodegradable food containers.
The general idea is to avoid the use of plastic bags altogether to reduce the amount of waste that goes into the landfill.
However, as it is difficult to convince consumers to part with all plastic bags straight away, the remaining plastic bags are biodegradable and have to be purchased for 5 cents.
Water bottles are another area where biodegradable packaging is making a difference in Cayman. Earthstrong is a local supplier that has brought a couple of water brands to Cayman that use a corn-based bottle, which once thrown away, degrades very quickly.
Other products such as biodegradable bin liners are also available in Cayman.
Eco-friendly cleaning products
The use of eco-friendly cleaning products is yet another, easily achievable way for businesses to become greener. Cleaning services on Grand Cayman sell and use cleaning products that are less harmful to the environment for the cleaning of offices, hotels and restaurants. For businesses that develop a green policy, the use of eco-friendly cleaning products can and should be one of the first things to be introduced.
In combination with cleaning products the usage of water is a point that merits attention. In particular on islands like the Cayman Islands, the vast majority of tap water has to be generated from seawater in a complex and costly process. To minimise the amounts of water used is not only beneficial to the environment, it will also save costs.
Commuter and business travel
Cost is generally a factor that has made many businesses take note of green initiatives. For instance avoiding travel has become more fashionable during the recession.
Especially in Cayman, where all travel off the Island is essentially air travel, the cost benefits are immediately mirrored by environmental benefits. Of course not all business travel can be avoided, but a business policy determining how to decide when it is and is not necessary to travel can provide guidance.
The issue of commuter travel is naturally not a large one in Cayman and possible alternatives in terms of working from home as in other countries have not yet been explored. Even in the US the popularity of car sharing is waning and new incentives to reduce commuter travel have yet to be found.
The same applies to green methods of transport. Cayman Automotive recently introduced the first electric cars to the Cayman Islands and plans to bring in many more models during 2011.
These cars can be charged at dedicated charging stations or by simply plugging the car into the electric plug in the wall at home. For a wider use a network of charging stations will have to be established and the law will have to change before electric cars are allowed on Cayman’s streets.
Yet, these first steps are an interesting prospect, as electric vehicles are quite simply ideal for small islands, because the main draw-back, the limited distance that can be covered by electric cars without recharging, is not as critical as in other places.
The biodiesel substitute for petrol has gained popularity in the US and other countries. While the vegetable-based oil is cheap to produce and burns more cleanly than petrol it is also abundantly available. Many of the latest car models have biodiesel compatible engines and regular diesel engines can be modified to use biodiesel relatively easily.
Unfortunately, biodiesel is not yet available in the Cayman Islands and cannot be used to reduce harmful emissions.
If the mantra of avoid, reduce, reuse and recycle cannot be followed, for example in the case of business and personal travel that is absolutely necessary, carbon offsetting is a method that ensures that the amount of carbon generated is offset by an investment into a project that either reduces carbon emissions by the same amount or prevents the same amount of carbon from ever entering the atmosphere.
Island Offsets, a new green venture poised to start in Cayman in the near future will offer businesses the ability to offset their carbon footprint through local initiatives such as solar panels in schools, supplying low income families with energy efficient light bulbs or the purchase of land and the prevention of deforestation in conjunction with the National Trust.
Island Offsets will offer businesses the opportunity to offset those carbon emissions that cannot be reduced and witness how the initiatives, supported through the programme, have an effect locally.