It’s always the age for someone with a good idea to make lots of money. But the eternal question for green entrepreneurs is whether or not it’s possible to go green and make green at the same time. Is it possible to wed profit and purpose? Can business play a part in saving ourselves from ourselves?
These seem like really big questions, but the answers for many big businesses are already a resounding yes to all of the above.
This week, Ray Anderson is in Los Angeles for a book signing promoting his latest tome Confessions of a Radical Industrialist. Sixteen years ago, Ray set a seemingly audacious goal for his largely petroleum-based commercial carpet company: to take nothing from the earth that couldn’t be replaced by the earth. While it may have seemed a hippy dippy idea to critics at the time, over the years, Interface has been able to cut green house gas emissions by 82%, fossil fuel consumption by 60%, waste by 66%, and water use by 75%. All that cutting has simultaneously resulted in a sales increase of 66%, doubling the company’s earnings and raising profit margins. Beyond that, the company has even invented and patented new machines, materials, and manufacturing processes, marking Interface as more than a successful company, but an industry trend-setter and market innovator.
Besides Interface, there are other notable examples of big businesses thinking big and seizing the opportunity to profit while serving a greater purpose. CNN Money did a recent round up of nine companies that are getting rich tackling nine of humanities biggest problems. From global warming to malnutrition, dirty air to dirty water, global epidemics to the complicated proposition of waste disposal; there are big businesses out there making bank saving ourselves from ourselves, despite the recession.
Basically, all of these case studies demonstrate the fact that profit and sustainability are not mutually exclusive. Business can and should be the driver for change, and turning a profit while doing so is not impossible. While we can’t all be as successful as Interface, Airtricity, and Plumpy’Nut , the same practical ideas and measurable outcomes can be applied to small business, just at a different scale. Hopefully we are entering a different age of businesses, where even small business owners can aspire to be radical industrialists in our own rite.