storytelling, sustainable business

State of Green Business report calls for transformation; strong stories can speed progress

Carolyn McMaster | February 5, 2015

This year’s State of Green Business report is pretty gloomy. As Joel Makower, chief of, put it, “It’s discouraging, to say the least.”

Makower, along with his GreenBiz colleague John Davies and TruCost’s Richard Mattison, provided an overview of the report’s findings in a webinar this week. In sum, businesses are doing some things well (and a few are knocking it out of the ballpark), but overall impact is negligible. One bright spot is that in the past year or two there seems to be some “decoupling” of natural capital impacts from business growth—global greenhouse gas intensity (essentially, metric tons of CO2 emitted per dollar of revenue) is going down, even as the economy grows. Total impact, however, is still going up.

It’s also good news that more companies are taking natural capital valuation into account, and some are using “shadow pricing” (setting a cost on resource impacts and carbon) to guide business decisions. These actions lead the report authors’ list of transformations important for a sustainable global economy:

  1. Applying shadow pricing and natural capital accounting
  2. Investors demanding more accountability
  3. Incorporating sustainability factors to enhance business decisions
  4. Transforming supply chains
  5. Businesses setting sustainability targets based on science and planetary limits

For most, if not all, of these transformations, clear communications are essential. Numbers and information alone are meaningless. Sustained efforts at fundamental change require a story that motivates everyone involved—a narrative that provides context, shows progress and provides the vision. Such stories enable people to connect the threads, make good decisions and transform the business. They also make reporting, to both internal and external stakeholders, a bit easier. A strong story will enable companies to lead and serve as models that others can follow.

That’s not just my opinion. During the webinar’s chat session several participants raised the importance of communications. Here’s a sampling of comments:

Biggest problem seems to be that consumers don’t understand the terms we experts are using. And…to Joel’s point, the biggest eco-benefits are invisible to consumers so they don’t see the value.—Scot Case

Organizations also need a new vision and a new business narrative that excites and engages people, beyond doing less harm…something people can see as a new future for the organization…and for themselves.—Jeana Wirtenberg

I agree that communication is core to affecting change—and that it is the responsibility of the “experts” to find a way to communicate key messages to their customers, communities, supply chains, etc. in a way that is relevant and comprehensible to them.—Nicki Della Porta

[By] bridging the gap between sustainability professionals and others, effective communications helps better understanding.—Andrea Boltz

The report joins the growing chorus that says we need new business models and to question some of our assumptions. It issues tentative calls to action for companies to do more, to make sure their actions make a difference and to lobby for policies and regulations that will help create a more sustainable economy.

Makower details these in his article on the report; he’ll covering these stories to see whether companies step up in these areas. We hope that companies, in turn, will start telling stories that inspire action and allow us all to hold them accountable.


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