The sustainable or green action item with the highest potential for gaining CFO acceptance is conservation. Why? Because conservation is about savings and paybacks, which CFOs can relate to their calculations of cash flows and paybacks. It makes sense to start in your office when it comes to conservation.
But even with this potential affinity from such a key senior officer, most businesses still confront the question: how to conserve or adopt a sustainable business strategy? If you're struggling with that issue in your business, you are among the majority. Florida International University recently conducted an international survey of companies and found that 50 percent of companies don't have a green strategy or are in the early stages of drafting one. Only 21 percent of the companies surveyed were considered to be in the category of immediate or advanced sustainability. Now is the perfect time to get a green edge because 80 percent of the world's businesses are still trying to figure out how sustainability applies to them.
The typical first action to take in the greening of an office is to figure out how to use less electricity and possibly do something with all that stuff in everyone's waste paper basket. What many offices end up doing is replacing energy-draining incandescent light bulbs with compact fluorescent light bulbs because they produce an approximately four-month financial payback in electricity cost savings. And there's typically an effort to recycle, but this often produces marginal results.
The businesses that are aggressively adopting sustainability in the office take a "systems thinking" approach that recognizes greening the office cuts across the organizational structure. It requires cultural change, and results must be financially measured just like all other activities within the company. It also requires recognizing that the office is not an island, but part of a supply chain involving stakeholders, keeping in mind that one oft-forgotten stakeholder is the customer.
The most important question to keep in mind is: How can your business's procedures help curb your customers' emissions? Not only is going green in your business marketable, but it could also soon be law in many states. For example, California is working on legislation that would require reduced carbon dioxide emissions and the state is also exploring the impacts of shopping malls, housing density and availability of mass transportation on the generation of carbon dioxide.
This systems thinking approach recognizes that lasting change engages everyone involved in the greening movement in your office, and is based on the same highly disciplined performance monitoring that's applied to the reporting of financial performance. This broader perspective expands the range of scope to include suppliers, work associates, management, waste handlers and customers. It implies that focusing on the low-hanging fruit--easy greening measures such as energy-efficient lighting or recycling what's in the waste basket--can only produce limited results. Success in greening the office requires the same cultural commitment, engineering design, management, leadership and performance monitoring as applied to the business's core operating criteria.
Bill is President of NCCT , a consulting firm that helps companies grow green revenue. His newest book, The Secret Green Sauce , profiles best practices being used by successful green businesses. He has previously held roles as senior vice president of PG&E Energy Services, president of Cleantech America (a solar power plant development company) and COO of Texaco Ovonics Hydrogen Solutions (which launched the first hydrogen-fueled Prius).