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Sustainability: From Trend to Movement

Jacob Chung |
February 13, 2012 | 2:08 p.m. PST

Contributing Reporter

Panelists Tim Sexton, Bridgette Bell, William Brent, Michael J. O'Brien and Jennifer Miller DuBuisson at the Greening Summit--The Sound of Social Change
Panelists Tim Sexton, Bridgette Bell, William Brent, Michael J. O'Brien and Jennifer Miller DuBuisson at the Greening Summit--The Sound of Social Change
Companies have made great strides in being “green”, but being concerned about the environment is no longer enough. Companies need to set and meet specific goals in order to promote sustainability as a part of the corporate structure. 

This was the topic discussed by marketing professionals and green advocates Friday during the Greening Summit—The Sound of Social Change in Los Angeles. 

“I don’t know about you all, but I’m sort of done with green,” said William Brent, a panelist and vice president of Cleantech an eco-conscious consulting group subsidiary of the public relations firm Weber Shandwick. “It has to be about specific definable benefits. If you want to convince somebody that they ought to purchase your product or service because it’s greener, you have to talk about the fact that it’s going to help meet regulatory goals, that it’s going to be better economically for your business and provide better health for your children.” 

The event was co-sponsored by The Recording Academy, sponsor of the Grammy Awards and Waste Management, one of the nation’s leading trash-hauling companies. Its purpose was to discuss energy consumption, recycling and conservation. This year, the topics revolved around how corporations should go beyond “green washing,” or empty gestures, towards environmental protection to make sustainability a genuine part of the business culture. 

What was a growing trend 10 years ago is now becoming a global initiative according to the panelists, but how are companies marketing their green initiatives? 

Corporate Social Responsibility, known in the industry as CSR, refers to the obligation of large companies to use their wealth in order to give back to the community they market to. 

Many large companies today have CSR built into their business policies. According to CorporateRegister.com, a self-funded organization that studies corporate responsibility, more than 5,500 internal corporate responsibility reports were released in 2010 globally, up from 837 reports in 2000. 

In another, non-scientific study by computer software and hardware manufacturer IBM, more than half of the 250 businesses who participated said they believe promoting CSR—environmental or social—offers them an advantage over competitors. 

“Resource constraints are growing all the time,” said Brent. “[This applies] not only for their economic benefit but also for the benefit for the consumers that they rely on. There’s an absolute need for companies to buy into this notion of sustainability…”

Other panelists at the Greening Summit, concurred more should be done in the effort to take the environment into account when conducting business, but how?

“We should never make a decision without considering its impact on the seventh generation to follow us,” panelist Tim Sexton said in paraphrasing a law of the Iroquois. 

More than just catchy slogans, the panelists offered some concrete measures to be taken by the business community. 

The idea of environmental sustainability is nothing new for businesses, but now it’s more than just a concept of conservation, it’s a business model. 

“It’s about saving money, it’s about creating efficiency,” said Brian Thurston who works in the business development office for Waste Management. “It’s becoming more and more prevalent that [consumers] demand this out of the companies (they do business with).” 

Thurston said all aspects of business drive sustainability today. Consumers, employees and the business all benefit from it. 

But with companies and consumers jumping onboard with the green movement, some media experts are wary of the harm that a stress on CSR might inadvertently present if done on a shallow level. 

Siva Vaidhyanathan a University of Virginia professor of media studies has argued at a different conference last year corporate responsibility can dampen public interaction in politics and create confusion as to what our needs are as consumers as oppose to our desires.

“The question is do we have the right level of government intervention to get what we want?” said Vaidhyanathan during last year’s conference. 

The advocates at the Greening Summit agreed government plays a critical role in “creating policies that help support the innovations,” but in a free market, corporate responsibility should always exist. 

“We live in a market economy. If a need needs to filled, someone will step up and fill it. The history of capitalism is that some fail and some succeed,” said Brent. 

To tie the summit to the upcoming Grammy’s, the panelist ended their discussion by highlighting the importance of pop culture in influencing members of the public to do their part in changing “green” commitments from being a trend to being a movement. 

Many young people today trust the words of their favorite musicians more than those of their close friends, said Sexton. 

“There’s a huge connection here between pop culture, particularly music, and how we drive change.”

 

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