Question: I keep hearing that many small businesses are "going green." It seems like this has been around a while now. So is it more than a fad? What do I need to know about this, and is my business a candidate? I guess I'm pretty "green" about going green.
Answer: Yes, to some extent every business is a candidate. Here in Washington (the EverGREEN State) and in Whatcom County we have been leaders in what many call the green revolution. Let's talk about this.
First, here's the back-story. The environmental movement had its origins in the 1960s and '70s, bringing significant change and social awareness of concepts like conservation and environmental concern. In 1973 a shortage of gasoline led to rationing and long lines at the pumps; this helped the nation realize that resources are not limitless. Also in the 1970s Earth Day became celebrated on April 22. This coincided with the older Arbor Day holiday, dating back to the Teddy Roosevelt presidency in 1907, when every American was expected to plant a tree.
Today we'll look into some green-speak. These are terms and ideas that you'll need to know about to be a player in the world of green business. In a future column we'll look at some local aspects of green business; opportunities and challenges; some critical points of view; and how your business might start down the green path.
Here is a glossary of 12 key terms that are common in green discussion circles.
Benefit corporation or "B corporation." This refers to a company that is driven by societal goals in addition to shareholder needs. It is not a legally-designated corporate structure, but the business must be certified and agree to a set of specific reporting requirements.
Corporate social responsibility. This concept, often called CSR, is related to what's called the triple bottom line. It is often used interchangeably with "corporate responsibility" or "corporate citizenship." It envisions a type of corporate self-regulation which accounts for environmental and social impacts of operations, as well as financial performance.
Dow Jones Sustainability Index. Created in 1999, this is the first global index that assesses the financial performance of companies that emphasize sustainability. It has been controversial. Most people haven't heard of it, but it is used as a badge of corporate greening by the rated recipients. Check out djindexes.com.
Downcycling. The process of recycling in such a way that new products are of considerably lesser quality or economic value. An example would be clean white paper downcycled into cardboard.
E-waste. This is waste associated with outdated electronic equipment; also called "tech-trash."
Green supply chain management. A supply chain is the steps through which a company sources, designs, manufacturers and delivers its products to customers. So "greening the supply chain" is an effort to reduce the environmental impact of each stage in the production cycle of a product. This is from the sourcing of the raw materials used to construct it, its distribution and sale, and finally, to its potential to be recycled, reused, or composted.
Greenwashing. This derogatory term, derived from "whitewashing," refers to how an organization, or a product or service, is misrepresented as being green or environmentally sustainable, when it actually isn't.
LEED. The Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design building rating system was developed by the U.S. Green Building Council. It is internationally recognized and provides certification standards for environmentally sustainable construction. The standards take into account energy and water efficiency; CO2 emissions reduction; improved indoor environmental quality; and responsible raw material sourcing.
Life cycle impact assessment. This refers to a compilation and evaluation of the inputs, outputs and the potential environmental impacts of a product or system throughout its life span. Environmental burdens include the materials and energy resources required to create the product, as well as the wastes and emissions generated during the process. It is similar to a financial analysis of the life cycle cost of an item.
Repurposing. Allows a product to be cleaned or refurbished and then reused in its previous or in a new form, thereby extending its useful life. For fun, Google "trash talk-news from the dumpster" for great innovative examples of creative reuse.
Triple bottom line. A company or organization's set of values used to track their financial, social and environmental performance as a way to measure success.
Upcycling. The process of recycling that yields new products of higher economic value. Example: using waste PET (plastic from soda bottles) to create Terratex fabric or Trex composite decking.
There's tons of "greening" information on the Internet. For a good overview, start at greenbiz.com.
To learn more about managing cash flow, and other small business matters, contact SCORE, "Counselors to America's Small Business." SCORE is a nonprofit nationwide organization with more than 13,000 volunteer business counselors who provide free, confidential business counseling and low-cost training workshops to small business owners. Call the local SCORE chapter at 360-685-4259 to schedule an appointment. For details about the organization,visit SCORE.org.
Ask SCORE is prepared for The Bellingham Herald by Bob Dahms, a business counselor with the Bellingham chapter of SCORE. Submit questions for this column to firstname.lastname@example.org.