Green filters, certification, screening criteria, eye of the green needle—how do you know if you’re ‘green’ enough?
Now that we’re getting serious about climate change and the rising cost of energy, every corporation and every organization can benefit from a bit of greening.
In Europe and Japan, it’s just good business and good government. Here in the Americas, greening is a fascinating opportunity, but for many it looks like a dark forest haunted by the demon of reduced profits.
The definition of green, and the criteria for screening products, companies, and organizations for inclusion in green events, trade shows, or green supplier lists are moving targets.
As the green wave washes over mainstream society, many of us long for a powerful consensus that can stand up to scrutiny from all angles, a full spectrum definition of the values that define what we mean by ‘green’. We need a level playing field, not a just new version of politically correct rhetoric. We want the details to be filled in so that it looks just as beautiful and honest from all sides, underneath and behind.
The Local Living Economy values can help us achieve a clear definition of green . There is harmony, elegance and basic wisdom in this combination of ideas and practice:
? a healthy environment
? strong community
? meaningful employment
? buying local first
? fair trade
Thus ‘green’ in all its complex glory means: to demonstrate a commitment to work, to produce, and to buy based on “local living economy” values of a healthy environment, strong communities, meaningful employment, buying local first, and prioritizing fair trade.
I would like to propose that these values be adopted as universal principles of what we mean by green when we screen companies for inclusion in green directories, green trade shows, green events, green associations, and, perhaps most importantly, as suppliers under green procurement policies for government, business and organizations.
The Local Living Economy values are shared aspirations, a shared commitment to be honest about our business practices. A company or organization may have a long way to go to achieve its green objectives. The important thing is to be clear about what the objectives are. These values can also provide the basis for self-assessment frameworks and for user-generated green recommendations on websites.
This is not an effort to exclude any manufacturer or retailer from the greening wave. On the contrary, it is an effort to clarify the meaning of leadership in the field and raise the ‘green’ bar to a place where it can stay for the foreseeable future – a future that requires radical, rapid transformation of the way we use energy, the way we produce goods, and the way we live, toward a less exploitive, more interdependent relationship with nature, both at home and in the offshore lands where many of our raw materials and most of our manufactured goods come from.
The first of the Local Living Economy values is generally accepted in our common definition of green, and is usually elaborated with the language of the environmental movement:
Demonstrate a commitment to a healthy environment
There are many green screening criteria that do a good job of determining that a company, product, or organization lessens its environmental impacts and/or delivers environmental benefits.
However, I would like you to think about whether any other aspects of Socially Responsible Business values are part of your understanding of what you mean by green. Should a green company demonstrate a commitment to strong community and meaningful employment? That is, can a company be green if it does not pay its workers enough so that they can afford to green their consumption habits and buy fresh, healthy food? Can a company be green if its efforts to maximize profits are harmful to any local community?
The keys to broadening, deepening and rounding-out our full-spectrum understanding of green are the last two local living economy values:
Demonstrate a commitment to prioritize local procurement – buy local first—
and demonstrate a commitment to prioritize fair trade.
What has buying local first got to do with green? A great deal.
Giving priority to locally-owned producers and service providers in a particular region has immediate environmental benefits through the reduction of all kinds of longer-distance costs, in shipping and other costs associated with far-flung headquarters and production. A great, and poorly understood, benefit of giving trade to locally-owned suppliers is that the owners and their employees spend more money and pay more tax in the local regional economy, generating the economic multiplier effect that can be as high as 3 times more than the benefit of money left in local economies by non-local corporations such as chain stores. We may enjoy the imported goods, and there is room for all kinds of imports in the local economy from coffee to computers, but we also need to be aware of how a “buy local first” policy fuels the engine of local economic resilience as we confront the end of cheap energy. Another key green benefit of giving priority to locally produced goods and services is that you maximize your support to the local tax base and the efforts of local governments to renew their infrastructure and implement the greening programs that are needed.
What does fair trade have to do with green? Plenty.
If a company or municipal government commits to take action for a healthy environment, the left and the right hands need to get to know each other a bit better. In our interdependent biosphere, does it really benefit our environment in Canada to clean up industry here, perhaps to even eliminate a highly polluting industrial practice, without asking how our goods are produced offshore? If we use price as a key purchasing criteria, along with some assurance that a product is more environmentally friendly than our previous choice, but we don’t ask questions about how both workers and nature are treated in the processes of offshore extraction of raw materials, production processes, assembly, packaging, shipping, etc. we are still poisoning our own well. These are some of the issues encompassed by the concept of fair trade.
We can be justly proud of all of our efforts to green our operations at home, to buy the most eco-friendly cleaning products, etc., but a commitment to fair trade helps us to see and change to ways that offshore workers and nature are abused in service of corporate profit, governmental habits, and western affluence.
Local living economy values provide powerful guidelines to define the integrity of business and government in the 21st century based on transparency. They offer a way to commit to continuous improvement, not sudden transformation, a way to commit to stop externalizing the costs of our prosperity by exploiting cheap labour and harming nature in far off places. When it comes down to the biosphere and the interdependence of peoples, there are no longer any economic externalities. When big retail chains start offering some eco options, some organic options, when they increase the fuel efficiency of their trucking fleets, change their light bulbs or install solar panels in the malls, these actions are justly celebrated. But when they use these gestures to claim the high ground of green leadership in trade shows and the media it is still a form of greenwashing. Their business model continues to be based on maximum sales of cheap, flimsy, throw-away goods produced under extremely exploitive working conditions, often in very unsafe and unhealthy factories, from raw materials taken from the earth in unregulated and highly polluting, destructive ways, manufactured in highly polluting factories using energy from highly polluting power plants, drawing down natural capital and burning energy, producing vast quantities of greenhouse gas emissions, all for the sake of cheap toys and mediocre consumer goods of all kinds, 99% of which end up in our landfills within 6 months of purchase. This is a business model based on hyper-consumption of cheap goods produced in ways that externalize the abuse of both workers and nature overseas. It needs to be seen for what it is: an outmoded, ecologically damaging form of business, the opposite of green business.
Certification, monitoring and policing are important, but these can never be a substitute for transparency in green policy and practice. The way to demonstrate leadership, and the way forward for anyone who is sincere about greening, is to be honest about how your actions help people and planet. We need to choose words that express a real commitment to the health of local ecosystems in the places where the business operates, not merely to ‘reduce the impact’ of operations on an abstract sphere called ‘the environment’.
Leaders in the field have already set a precedent to do what I am proposing. The Co-Op America Green Pages Directory and the Green Festivals use screening criteria that are completely consistent with Local Living Economy values. Essentially, they incorporate both social and environmental criteria, both local and overseas impacts, in their definition of green. To qualify to appear in the National Green Pages and carry the Seal of Approval, companies’ representatives must demonstrate that they:
* Actively use their businesses as tools for positive social change;
* Run “values-driven” enterprises that operate according to principles of social justice and environmental sustainability;
* Are socially and environmentally responsible in the way they source, manufacture, and market their products and run their offices and factories; and
* Are committed to developing and employing extraordinary practices that benefit workers, customers, communities, and the environment.
These criteria are also used by the Green Festivals to select vendors and exhibitors. Applicants are asked to provide a Social Responsibility Profile, which invites the company to describe what it is doing to help people and planet in all locations where it sources materials or products, backup up by mission statement, any relevant certification, written criteria for sourcing supplies, code of conduct for vendors, specific info regarding all manufacturing facilities for products, the company’s employee policies and benefits, etc. This is all part of being a socially and environmentally responsible—or green—business.
The shorthand for this is the local living economy values:
? a healthy environment
? strong community
? meaningful employment
? buying local first
? fair trade
It’s all about evaluating our economic activities from an integrated perspective – not just an environmental one. And it’s about transparency, which just may be the essence integrity in business in the 21st century.