Businesses join green movement

Businesses market their sustainability to stay competitive.

by Tara Bannow

With the message of being green infiltrating nearly every aspect of todayâÄôs culture, businesses are finding it necessary to maintain the status quo of sustainability to stay competitive. Whether their efforts are centered in genuine concern or public relations is irrelevant, some experts say. âÄúI donâÄôt think thereâÄôs an environmentalist out there who would say, âÄòThey did it for the wrong reasons, so they shouldnâÄôt be congratulated,âÄô âÄù said Chuck Laszewski, communications director at the Minnesota Center for Environmental Advocacy. âÄúWe donâÄôt really care about what the reason is for doing the environmentally friendly thing. We just want them to do it.âÄù Alfred Marcus, a professor in the Carlson School of Management, is on the front lines of this phenomenon. Demand for his course âÄúBusiness, the Natural Environment and the Global EconomyâÄù has skyrocketed in recent years âÄî a trend he attributes to the fact that everywhere students look, whether itâÄôs BusinessWeek or The Wall Street Journal, theyâÄôre bombarded with news about how companies are becoming more sustainable. âÄúItâÄôs on everybodyâÄôs mind,âÄù he said. âÄúItâÄôs happening âÄî and it should happen.âÄù In every aspect of the business world, emphasis has been placed on being sustainable. âÄúItâÄôs taken for granted now. ItâÄôs kind of expected,âÄù Marcus said. While Marcus said he realizes many of the students enrolled in his course are just looking to be more attractive in the job market, others are committed to finding solutions to pressing environmental problems. Whatever their motives, itâÄôs a good sign that individuals and companies are feeling pressure to, at the very least, put up a front that shows theyâÄôre concerned about the issues, Marcus said. âÄúThe fact that people even have to join the club is very significant,âÄù he said. Ten local businesses, including such giants as Best Buy and Piper Jaffray, are taking an active role in MarcusâÄô course by helping groups of students develop projects. Mark Schiller, energy analyst for Best Buy and University of Minnesota alumnus, is leading a group thatâÄôs focused on developing marketing strategies for Best BuyâÄôs in-store and international recycling programs. Businesses should go beyond the standard energy reduction programs and become leaders in their respective fields, Schiller said. For Best Buy, that means capitalizing on their extreme capacity to reduce e-waste, electronics that end up in landfills or shipped to another country. While this goes a long way toward reducing a companyâÄôs carbon footprint, it also has the synergistic effect of increasing economic competitiveness. âÄúWeâÄôre becoming one of the largest consumer recyclers in the United States,âÄù he said. âÄúFor that, weâÄôre going to drive a lot of people into our stores.âÄù While large corporations have found ways to capitalize on the green movement, other mom-and-pop companies began to sprout up, dedicating their entire business models around being green. âÄúThe owners of those shops came from an environmental background,âÄù Laszewski said. âÄúThey believe in doing whatever they can to help the planet, and this is just an extension of their moral beliefs.âÄù Green Darlene specializes in eco-friendly residential house cleaning through the use of non-acidic products that donâÄôt have the harsh chemicals of traditional cleaning products. The idea for the company came when David BearmanâÄôs wife, Cindy, was battling breast cancer and became sensitive to the harsh chemicals in the products they used. The company, which Bearman and his wife formed almost a year ago, is working with a group of students in MarcusâÄô course to develop marketing strategies. âÄúThere are many people that heard about being green and havenâÄôt experienced it,âÄù he said. âÄúWe come and clean their house and introduce them to the green movement. WeâÄôre hoping someday theyâÄôll adopt more practices of being green.âÄù While smaller companies like Green Darlene are looking to capitalize on a niche market, theyâÄôre coming at it as much from their hearts as their pocketbooks, Laszewski said. The environmental movement has gone through stages, Marcus said. In the 1970s, it was driven by government regulation. During the Reagan era, a voluntary movement arose, driven by both public relations and genuine concern, he said. Now, nearly every companyâÄôs advertising scheme is based around being environmentally friendly, Marcus said.