Measure What? (4/15/11)

Measure What? Michel Gelobter, Chief Green Officer, Hara Eric Olson, Senior Vice President, Advisory Services, BSR Glen Low, Principal, Blu Skye Forward-thinking companies are coming to realize that sustainability isn’t just good for their bottom lines; it makes it easier to win over customers and compete in the market, say three corporate greening experts. As new tools such as carbon accounting software become more sophisticated and widely adopted, the panelists say, benefits will accrue not only to more efficient companies but to customers better able to trust companies’ green claims. First, says Eric Olson, Senior Vice President, Business for Social Responsibility, companies need to figure out whether they should they be listening to their customers, or leading them. Olson leans toward the latter. “There is a school of thought that says what we are talking about is so complex that what consumers want is for us to solve the problem for them,” he says. “They’re not going to sit down and ask for fair trade coffee – they don’t even know what that is. But they do know that they want a product that doesn’t have practices behind it that they wouldn’t believe in,” he adds. In a relatively recent shift, companies aren’t making green strides just because regulators forced them to. “Sustainability leadership about five years ago was very compliance oriented. Sustainability leadership today is about competitive advantage. It’s about innovation,” says Glen Low, Principal, Blu Skye, a sustainability consultancy. In a rapidly changing landscape, smart companies that pivot toward efficiency now, be they small firms or industry giants, will be big winners, says Michel Gelobter, Chief Green Officer, Hara.“There are a lot of companies, like a Wal-Mart, that are taking pretty aggressive actions right now,” he says. “The biggest value of scale is the size of the bets that you can win. The best use of large capital is winning big-risk bets. There’s a history of very big industries emerging from these kinds of pivotal moments.” Sustainability represents one of those pivotal moments, he says. All the positioning among agile companies looking to gain a green edge has led to a relatively new development, says Eric Olson: companies influencing policy in a progressive direction. These companies, Olson says, are clamoring for Congress to act, by stating: “We need a level playing field. We need incentives. We need long-term, predictable signals around the cost of energy sources in order to be as competitive as we should be.” This program was recorded in front of a live audience at the Commonwealth Club of California, San Francisco on April 15th, 2011 Learn more about your ad choices. Visit

by Climate One