President Trump and his Administration have moved to overturn much of the Obama Administration environmental regulations and policies as comprehensively as possible. As far as they are concerned, environmental protection is less important than, and actually the antithesis of, economic growth. I could not disagree more. I strongly believe that sustainability and an environmental consciousness can be, and should be, a core part of a company’s mission. In fact, I see growing markets and increased customer demand for companies to incorporate this pro-environmental perspective into their offerings and operations.
I certainly am far from alone in this perspective. Over the past 10 years or so, the concept of “sustainability” has gone from a “kind of nice to have” to an established area of performance and measurement in many companies. Numerous businesses have incorporated various aspects of sustainability into their product offerings. In fact, I was at an event this week where the caterers’ napkins bragged about their organic food—and the caterer even had my favorite brand of Half and Half—Organic Valley.
I can certainly do the obvious political activities in response to the Trump Administration policies: Call my Federal and State representatives (done) support pro-environment candidates and causes, etc. Beyond that, I, along with potentially millions of consumers and purchase decisions have an additional power—the power of the market. By “the market” I mean the consumer base across various industries. I mean the billions of dollars spent on goods and services each day across this country.
It is true that the Obama administration used various policy and regulatory levels to encourage environmental protection. This also had the effect of increasing awareness of these types of issues. However, while helpful, these policies come nowhere close to explaining why sustainability in particular, and an environmental perspective in general, has become increasingly prominent in the business community.
The true answer is that sustainability often makes sense economically. Many companies saved money over the long run (witness lower operating costs for LEED certified buildings). An ever increasing number of consumers and purchasers demanded it (exemplified by adding sustainability clauses to purchasing contracts). Perhaps most tellingly, when a company launched or increased a sustainability initiative, it used to be news—in some cases, big news. Now, measuring sustainability impact and improvements are becoming almost as widespread as….measuring profit.
Like many people, I will continuously be looking to increase the percentage of my purchases that go to items with a sustainability component. An initial inventory includes: renewing my CSA subscription, which helps keep that farmer in business and preserves farmland, buying 100% wind power, refusing to put chemicals on my lawn, and trying to avoid buying a bunch of plastic toys for my son. On the flip side, I do drive a healthy distance to work every day in a Single Occupancy Vehicle. My son also has an insatiable demand for Legos. If I am fortunate, my new jeans will be from a company that is trying to reduce the water impact of the cotton used to make them.
I am just one person. But if millions of other consumers and customers consciously evaluate where their money is going, then the market will demand that the companies continuously enhance how “sustainable” they are. In that case, while the Trump Administration may permit and even encourage companies to endlessly extract from and pollute the Earth, the market won’t let them.