Marketing and Sustainability, Part 2: Getting Connected

Reprised story: Part 2 of this series first appeared in Tips&Trends on July 30, 2007. We repost it in recognition of Earth Day.

Oregon is experiencing its own positive buzz about sustainability. Which is great for Northwest businesses that can leverage the good things happening here in terms of connecting to great resources and getting help for developing green reputations.

The world is noticing what is happening in Oregon, too. In "Fast Company's" annual listing of Fast Cities, Portland was named one of 30 urban centers across the world that are shaping the future. The city placed third overall in the "green leader" category behind Chicago and Stockholm.

Two reasons why: Portland has more than 125 structures certified by the U.S. Green Building Council, the magazine reports. And, the region is at the forefront of the 'eat local' revolution, where restaurants buy directly from area farmers to preserve livelihoods and open space.

Is that what sustainability is about? Part 1 of this series described what sustainability is and how corporations may use green practices to enhance business reputations. As the list at the bottom of this article shows, there are many principles behind the sustainability movement.

In Part 1, the concept of climate change (global warming) intentionally was skipped because it is a complex issue and other sustainability initiatives deserve attention as well. But, it really is the best focal lens for bringing sustainability into focus. Controlling hydrocarbon emissions is the key to preserving the environment and our livability. The issue will affect our consumption habits and economies. How we reduce emissions in our transportation systems, manufacturing processes, consumption choices, energy production and designs for greener living all matter.

Local Global Connection

Climate change is no longer disputed by major news organizations that once required reporters to include pro and con comments about the validity of the "theory". The debate is over for most individuals. Blame Al Gore and scores of scientists who have done exhaustive research.

Gore has trained hundred of speakers to give localized talks on his award-winning presentation: "An Inconvenient Truth." One of the first to be trained is Oregon Secretary of State Bill Bradbury, who – on his personal time – has made more than 50 presentations filled with local examples of potential environmental changes in the region.

Bradbury will speak before groups of 50 or more. To book a speaking date, contact suzannevc@oeconline.org.

Local Government Great Resource

The best resource for helping businesses develop a sustainability plan may be local government. Ironically, local governments are fighting a perception battle about their role and capabilities.

In asking the question“who should take the lead in addressing environmental issues,” respondents to a recent survey conducted by GfK Roper Reports place the federal government (50 percent) at the top of the list, followed by “individual Americans” (35 percent) as well as business and industry (35 percent). At the bottom of the list is local government (11 percent.).

Time to change those perceptions. Programs, such as the City of Portland’s Office of Sustainable Development, have helped deliver award-wining results, no doubt gaining the attention of Fast Companies.

Also, for great assistance in the Portland area check out Metro and the counties in its service area. A portion of our residential and commercial trash-disposal fees pays for a network of solid waste and recycling advisors available to businesses at no charge. Companies may ask a county or city employee to make a visit and recommend ways to reduce waste and improve recycling of waste. Innovative new options, such as organic food composting, are being added to the tool kit.

“Get started by doing something small,” says Susan Terry, a recycling educator for Clackamas County. “Sustainable practices make as much sense for small businesses as they do for big corporations. There are cost-saving efficiencies to be made while helping the community.”

To arrange a visitation call Metro’s recycling information hotline at (503) 234-3000 or visit its Recycle At Work web page.

The Natural Step

Another resource is The Natural Step, an internationally recognized NGO (non-government organization) for sustainability coaching. Founded in Sweden almost two decades ago, the group's core beliefs are embodied in a five-step process discussed in four short videos. Learn whom the movers and shakers are in Oregon's network of The Natural Step. The group sponsors seminars and business consulting is available.

Other helpful resources are:

"Sustainable Industries" magazine, published in Portland and filled with great ideas and contacts information;

"Sustainable Business" e-newsletter and Web site;

The solid waste section of the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality is another good source for waste prevention information;

The Oregon Environmental Council for information on climate change and other issues;

And, to see what's going on with solid waste managers check out the Association of Oregon Recyclers.

Guiding principles

In establishing a sustainability identity - the Reputation Management and Cause Marketing strategies highlighted in Part 1 of this series - businesses must avoid "greenwashing" if their actions are to be viewed as credible. Greenwashing is defined as the unjustified appropriation of environmental virtue. There are watchdog groups, such as Resource Watch that sniff out posers.

Still in search of a meaningful definition of sustainability? Look to the Washington Department of Ecology. It has posted eight principles giving all of us guidance:

1. There is an interdependence between ecological, economic and social factors in achieving sustainability.

2. The concept of waste can and should be eliminated.

3. Healthy, natural systems are the basis for sustainable communities and economies.

4. Future generations should be equal partners in decision-making.

5. Local decisions have regional and global implications.

6. Incentives are necessary to create sustainable behavior.

7. Investment in the design phase of a process or product drives sustainable outcomes.

8. Human relationships and a collaborative approach lead to sustainable solutions.