“Green business” has gotten far more sophisticated in recent years, with companies touting everything from measuring a company's carbon emissions to creating products out of recycled and renewable materials.
Yet despite the innovation and hype around environmental sustainability, businesses in the United States haven’t made much actual progress in reducing their environmental footprint.
That’s the message of GreenBiz.com’s new State of Green Business 2014 report, which tracks progress and trends in the world of U.S. corporate sustainability. GreenBiz works with Trucost, a company that tracks sustainability metrics and best practices, to review the U.S. corporate sustainability disclosures and gauge how much overall impact they’re having.
“For all of the advancements and achievements … we're not making much progress,” writes Joel Makower, GreenBiz Group executive editor and the report’s author. “When you actually measure year-on-year progress companies are making, it's a disappointing state of affairs”
One example noted by Makower: U.S. corporate greenhouse gas emissions essentially flatlined between 2008 and 2012, while emissions grew worldwide. Carbon emissions are the largest contributor to climate change—suggesting we’ve made little or no progress in stopping it.
Water use is “another area where corporate activity is timid and inadequate,” as many industries continue to pump water out of the ground at alarming rates.
Moreover, the report finds that corporate sustainability leaders say their biggest problem right now is keeping sustainability on the business agenda. Many corporations have already tackled the “low-hanging fruit” of sustainability, such as energy efficiency, but they may not be ready or willing to invest in more ambitious sustainability measures.
While the report’s overall message is rather depressing, there are some glimmers of hope. Companies are collaborating more often to advance sustainability goals. Automakers such as General Motors and Honda, for example, have partnered to build hydrogen fuel cells for their vehicles. Coca-Cola aims to be “water neutral” by 2020 and has engaged in more than 500 projects to improve watersheds and access to clean water.
“It’s a exemplar program, though still a drop in the bucket when you consider that more than 1 billion people don’t have access to safe drinking water and roughly 2.6 billion don’t have adequate sanitation,” the report notes. “One company, even a global beverage giant, can’t do it alone.”
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