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The Green Economy Will Not Save Us

February 9, 2012

Fundamentally, big brand sustainability governance on its own will not – indeed, it cannot – achieve global sustainability. Put simply, the planet cannot sustain the impacts of the big brand business model: shipping increasing volumes of cheap goods to giant retail outlets to sell to growing numbers of bargain-hunting consumers at discount prices that do not reflect the full environmental and social costs of production.

Brand companies are implementing sustainability governance on their own terms to improve competitiveness and business value. Their aim is to leverage sustainability for business growth while focusing on reducing the intensity of environmental impacts. Consequently, the on-the-ground results of big brand efforts have not been able to reverse – or even measurably slow – the net environmental consequences of rising global consumption on ecosystems such as the global climate, tropical forests, or oceans.

Yet big brand greening is important and we’re seeing a positive trend in this:

Over the last two decades corporate environmentalism has been gradually shifting from a narrow, reactive approach to a more proactive and integrated business strategy. Today, it is still partly about public relations – and, no doubt, some of it is still little more than greenwash. But, something is also different. Corporate sustainability goals reach further, include measurable targets, are audited by independent groups, and are integrated into the core business through increasingly standardized business tools, such as life-cycle assessment, supply chain tracing, ecocertification, and sustainability reporting. Business books are increasingly documenting the competitive value of these new tools…

Big brands are recognizing the importance of cooperative networks to achieving their goals and are cooperating with a broad range of organizations to facilitate and increase the feasibility, effectiveness, legitimacy, and acceptance of their corporate sustainability and business growth efforts…

The rise of big brand environmentalism is opening up opportunities for environmental groups to partner with the companies to increase the speed and scale of their advocacy efforts to transform markets and vault eco-products into the mainstream. ‘Corporations can be extraordinarily dynamic, powerful, and swift allies’ Greenpeace USA explains (on their website) to justify their partnership with brand companies like Coca-Cola. Similarly, the Environmental Defense Fund (2011) explains the opportunity to scale up their environmental efforts through their partnership with Walmart: ‘Our goal in working with Walmart is to leverage what the retailer does best – creating efficient systems, driving change down through its supply chain and accessing a huge customer base – in order to dramatically advance environmental progress’.

The green economy model being pushed by environmental groups is necessary, but not sufficient.  Other changes will be needed, like better urban design, greatly reduced consumption, technology investments, and measures to reduce fertility.

More here.  The article is interesting throughout.

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