Green Scene: It's not enough just to talk about being green anymore

Co-Op America hosted its annual Green Business Conference, held in Chicago for the first time April 17-19, and SNEWS® was there. Conference speakers included leaders of vanguard sustainably focused and socially responsible businesses. Keynote speaker was Michael Crooke, a senior advisor at Revolution Living, a company founded by Steve Case to invest in businesses that promote healthy and balanced living.
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Co-Op America hosted its annual Green Business Conference, held in Chicago for the first time April 17-19, and SNEWS® was there. Conference speakers included leaders of vanguard sustainably focused and socially responsible businesses.

Keynote speaker was Michael Crooke, a senior advisor at Revolution Living, a company founded by Steve Case to invest in businesses that promote healthy and balanced living.

Before Revolution Living, Crooke was CEO of Patagonia, and has held executive positions with other outdoor industry companies such as Pearl Izumi, Moonstone, Kelty and Yakima.

Crooke's talk centered around his Mandala for the 21st century, or Mandala 2.0 philosophy, which outlined the components of a successful green business.

"A green business also goes beyond the product -- you have to pay attention to every aspect of your business, from healthy financials to the supply chain."

Crooke also made it clear that it's not enough to claim to be green.

In fact, he said, green is not cutting edge in itself anymore. A business has to offer the "entire package."

First-tier product is mandatory, he said, and beyond that, its business practices. This includes everything from healthy financials to the supply chain.

In addition to having the pieces in place, the main take away from Crooke's talk -- and from the conference in general -- was "transparency." It doesn't matter if you are a Fortune 500 company or a small gear manufacturer, a business must be transparent in its sustainable efforts to even show up to the green biz table. Be honest about what you do currently and do not claim to be something you are not.

Getting it right, he said, opens up a company to something that Crooke defined as the most cutting edge aspect of business today: "collective consciousness."

"It's a state in which people are so involved in an activity that nothing seems better than being a consumer of it."

In today's market, he continued, there is a huge segment of the population that wants to be part of the solution. Becoming a sustainable business puts you in this consumer's crosshairs.

Again, it's important to note that for companies trying to reach this consumer base, the entire package has to be in place and it has to be transparent to the consumer.

SNEWS® VIEW: Several things jumped out at us being at the Green Business Conference. First of all, why weren't there more company leaders speaking from the outdoor market? We are an industry based on the environment, after all. When we poked our heads in various meetings and made introductions, it was clear that the "outdoor market" was not something that the majority -- if any -- of the attendees were familiar with.

Second, the market of primary focus for attendees of the conference was LOHAS (Lifestyles of Health and Sustainability). This is a consumer segment the outdoor industry must get more familiar with and offers superb opportunities for expanding our market reach. The LOHAS market is pegged to be roughly 16 percent of the population of the United States, according to statistics compiled by the LOHAS trade group (www.lohas.com).

The businesses in outdoor are currently struggling through the transitions to become more sustainable. We applaud all efforts and know that it's not easy being green, especially when it seems like a moving target. Standards might help and it is clear that the outdoor industry is already beginning tentative movement toward achieving it. Two examples of standardizing efforts are currently underway: OIA's Green Index is a working group kicking off its meeting in Boulder the first of May. Backpacker magazine is also passing around a survey of its own to certain vendors. We will be reporting on both in a forthcoming column as well.

One thing is clear: Offsetting, recycling programs and employee transportation incentives are not enough to make a company green anymore. Environmental commitment must resonate throughout all aspects of a business…all the way to its very core.

It's a tall order for members of the outdoor industry to work toward becoming environmentally sustainable and socially responsible businesses. Each step is important, and affects positive change, as long as it is genuine and communicated accurately and transparently.

Kristin Carpenter-Ogden of Verde PR is putting her journalists hat back on with a regular Green Scene column for SNEWS®. After spending nine years as a journalist covering the outdoor industry Kristin Carpenter-Ogden founded Verde PR (formerly KCPR). Verde is a boutique public relations, branding and consulting agency located in Durango, Colo. Verde builds and enhances genuine, transparent sustainable business and social responsibility platforms for its family of clients, while working to attain a strong return on all invested dollars in such platforms. Additionally, Verde PR specializes in providing the most creative public relations and branding support for its clients. For more information on Verde PR, email Kristin Carpenter-Ogden at kco@verdepr.com, or visit www.verdepr.com.

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