Kudos to New York Times columnist Tom Friedman, who's scored yet another triumph with his latest column, And the Color of the Year Is .... That color, of course, is "green," an assessment with which I can hardly argue. But it's more than that.
Friedman's column resonated with me on several levels, not the least of which was his assessment of our changing vocabulary:
For so many years the term "green" could never scale. It was trapped in a corner by its opponents, who defined it as "liberal," "tree-hugging," "girly-man," "unpatriotic," "vaguely French."
No more. We reached a tipping point this year -- where living, acting, designing, investing, and manufacturing green came to be understood by a critical mass of citizens, entrepreneurs and officials as the most patriotic, capitalistic, geopolitical, healthy and competitive thing they could do. Hence my own motto: "Green is the new red, white, and blue."
Right on, Tom. I've been pushing a "green" rock uphill for nearly two decades, beginning with my writing, in the late 1980s, the U.S. edition of The Green Consumer (John Elkington and Julia Hailes originated the book in the U.K.) From there unfolded a flurry of green-minded titles: two monthly newsletters, The Green Consumer Letter (1990-1994) and The Green Business Letter (1991-2004); a weekly syndicated newspaper column, "The Green Consumer"; a few other books; and, ultimately, GreenBiz.com and its sister sites, ClimateBiz.com and GreenerBuildings.com. Clearly, "green" was the color of my world.
But not everyone thought it should be. "Green isn't mainstream," people used to tell me, explaining that it was too political (e.g., the Green Party) or crunchy (tree huggers and girly-man, as Friedman so glibly put it). Friends and colleagues proffered, unsolicited, a range of substitute names, none of them acceptable, in my opinion.
So, Friedman's recent assessment is heartening, to say the least. But hardly surprising. Over the past few years, "green" has become a favorite term among advertisers (thanks, in large part, to catchphrase of a certain overexposed amphibian). Green has come out of the corporate closet. I hear the word discussed openly and without self-consciousness by leading executives, middle managers, line employees, even some Wall Street types.
Still, "green" is just the beginning. I'm predicting that the word for 2007 will be . . . "Greener."
That is, if I have anything to say about it.
I've just launched a for-profit media company, Greener World Media, which has taken over publishing of GreenBiz.com, et al, from their nonprofit home, the esteemed National Environmental Education & Training Foundation, where the sites had lived happily for the past five years.
Why a for-profit? In 1998-99, when the idea for GreenBiz.com was germinating, there was no business model for giving away information on the Internet. That clearly didn't stop a lot of people, but it stopped me. So, I created "the resource center on business, the environment, and the bottom line," as we dubbed ourselves, as a not-for-profit resource, relying on grants, sponsorships, and the kindness of strangers.
That model worked for a while, but it wasn't sustainable. (There's precious little philanthropic money available, at least in the green world, for a nonprofit organization whose prime mission is to serve the needs of business.) And things have changed: There is a business model now for online information services, based on advertising, sponsorship, and other revenue sources. And the world of green and sustainable business has exploded, with plenty of new products, services, and company initiatives to be promoted. So it was a now-or-never moment: either create the premier online media company focusing on business and sustainability . . . or let someone else do it. Hence, the new company.
My business partner, Pete May, is a veteran of b-to-b publishing and advertising, most recently serving as Senior Vice President at Prism Business Media. He'll be bringing his formidable sales, marketing, and strategy talents to the new company. (Here's a recent trade journal article announcing his departure from Prism.)
Greener World Media will hew closely to the original mission of GreenBiz.com:
to provide clear, concise, accurate, and balanced information, resources, and learning opportunities to help companies of all sizes and sectors integrate environmental responsibility into their operations in a manner that supports profitable business practices.
Over the next year, we'll be enhancing the existing sites and newsletters, and launching a series of new, targeted offerings, focusing on specific topics and business functions: green computing, branding and marketing, product design, business operations, materials sourcing, and more. We'll be extending our editorial reach beyond the greening of business to also include the greening of government and academe. And we'll be creating new partnerships and opportunities for green professionals to connect, communicate, and collaborate.
Of course, there are other vital colors besides green. Like black, the color of a positive balance sheet. My company -- and the countless other firms that have sprouted in the past few years that address the growing green marketplace -- need to be profitable. How we all survive and thrive over the next few years -- and whether "green" really is sustainable, from a business perspective -- will be an interesting story to watch.
Will green become the new black? Stay tuned.