The million-dollar question is this: what, from a business perspective, is being green worth? Will customers be attracted to environmentalism and pay for it?
I have watched leadership groups gasp in horror at the thought of being seen as “tree huggers.” As a recovering hippie who listens to Rush Limbaugh, I don’t think being a tree hugger is such bad a thing. But for some executives, this connotation apparently carries horrific implications—might they be turning into … hippies? Is it the possibility of taking drugs and wearing tie-dyed shirts that scares them? Is it that they think listening to the Grateful Dead is mandatory?
In fact, this is a generational issue. Executives in their 50’s and 60’s are environmentally sympathetic; we all want fresh air and clean water. However, this age group tends to have parameters around how far they will allow their companies to go toward sustainability. Meanwhile, employees in their 20’s and 30’s—whom I will affectionately call “Enviro-Fanatics”— find great excitement in environmental development. They are passionate about moving sustainability initiatives forward and tend to be extremely motivated by making a difference. This generation perceives that it has more at stake in the environment and the future.
If an organization goes in a sustainable direction, it can build employee loyalty as well as public goodwill. If you are looking at whom to put in charge of researching environmental initiatives, it is the younger group. They will find the options and possibilities. The older set of business managers and executives will think it through and implement, and the younger set will do the passionate heavy lifting. Both will lead the business into the green Promised Land.
Again, as sustainability becomes more acceptable, being committed to it also becomes more acceptable. Add in that this sustainability stuff can be a differentiator for your products and services and allow you to sell more, and you have a really interesting opportunity.