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September 06, 2008


Mark W. McElroy


You say that there is no standard for what it means to be a green business. I disagree. If a business manages its impacts on natural capital in such a way as to not degrade the carrying capacity of such capital at levels required to ensure human well-being (or to restore it as such), its operations are sustainable, or 'green' if you prefer. Any definition of 'green' that is indifferent to such impacts, or worse yet which tolerates insufficient levels of natural capital as required to ensure human well-being, is a definition that fails on its face. This is why most of what passes for 'green' these days should be rejected outright, and should be replaced with, or defined as, 'sustainability'.

This concept has shown up many times in the sustainability literature over the years, as it arguably does in the current GRI standard. Thus, it is simply not true to suggest that there is no shared understanding of, or standard for, what 'green' means, assuming we can equate 'green' with sustainability -- which I think we can and should. On the other hand, if you are suggesting that there is an alternative use of the term 'green' that is indifferent to sustainability, then as I stated above, I think it is not a definition that we should regard as credible. To be 'green' but not sustainable would be to call the value of 'green' into question.




As one member of a large corporation with 100,000+ employees and a public sustainability statement, I totally agree. What the company promises to the public rarely, if ever, affects me yet I see waste all around me.

We have started a cross-functional employee group on site to work through actionable things like increased recycling, and reduced waste and energy usage in the office. As a relatively low-ranking office worker, it seems that the company has overlooked me and my equals in making their environmental claims. Our on site green team is the only way I feel that I am contributing to the company's public environmental goals - or the greater good.


Nice column and very much in line with what we're seeing around our company. Our diverse group of employees are aware, pasionate about the environment and interested in figuring out how to do more. When the CEO blogs internally on environmental topics, he regularly receives more responses than on any other subject. I also agree wholeheartedly that the greening of a company should be viewed as a journey and cannot be easily held up against a single standard. From an employee engagement standpoint it is preferable to let things bubble up than to manage the entire program like any traditional corporate undertaking.

Saad Khan

Hi Joel- really a very nice post. I have cited your post in my piece here


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