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Rio+20 and sustainable commerce: More efforts on the way

There are 35 days to Rio+20, and within about the same time Microsoft will start to act on its dramatic announcement few days ago that it is going to join the “green” ranks and move toward carbon neutrality starting this July.

Microsoft is not the only one, of course. Other groups have done so before. To mention a few, Google is heavily investing in wind farms, while Facebook is building clean energy sources for its mushrooming data centers.

When it comes to the Fortune 500 and sustainability, there is an important point to remember: if they change, we all change. With a combined $23 trillion in annual revenues (near one-third of the global G.D.P.) their carbon impact is enormous. But the positive impact every time one of them gets its act cleaner and greener is the same.

It is not as simple as one would think. Microsoft, for example, is promising (for now) to work toward carbon neutrality with regard to their internal operations. But as Puma, GSK and others have found out, the bigger portions of their carbon footprints lie in their supply chain and in the use of their products, and not necessarily in their own operations.

Companies like Microsoft, Google and Facebook will need to do more than just “green” their own operations. They will need to find creative ways to constantly “level up” the green standards of their entire business spectrum, including supply chain, product use and more.

Starbucks can be an example of how a company can “be green” with the consumers all the way down to the growers, and make it a selling point. Unilever is another example, with a Paul Polman helping it trailblaze the green path. Others, of course, still need to decide and make even the initial steps in that direction. Apple is hit again and again by issues along its supply chain and Amazon is not yet sure if it even wants to go green.

Can forums like Rio+20 and Sustainable Brands, a business sector event happening in June in California, and others really find a way to move the largest companies toward a greener future? Judging by the number of high-profile participants and sometimes overwhelmingly sweeping commitments, one could easily say yes. But it won’t be easy.

On the other hand, finding ways in this period of financial holes the size of caves, it often seems that it’s every man and woman to his own.

However, it’s also possible it will happen sooner than most of us expect, and we are probably looking at a much greener 2015 to 2017, with many other giants following suit. If a large portion of the Fortune 500 will really start to go really green, despite all the “greenwashing” and pale alternatives, the effects it will have on our way of life would be phenomenal.

Will we be able to walk to a convenience store and fill up from a dispenser everything from soft drinks to shampoo to cleaning solutions to cosmetics?  Will the pharmaceutical and chemical industries find ways to green their ways and find reasonable replacements to currently harmful practices and products? Will transportation find a way out of the electrical Catch-22 and we will have accessible green mobility powered by alternative sources? Time will tell.

Maybe some of the answers to these questions can be found in solutions such as Sustainable Agriculture, the new 100-watt light-bulb from G.E. and the $25 billion Australia is expected to make of its carbon taxes (also coming this July). Or in other words, if the large corporations (and all the way to the small farmers and fishermen who are part of their supply chain) will find ways to re-invent themselves and still make reasonable money in the process, the answer is yes.

In any case, as Malcolm Gladwell very well says, it all changes once the “tipping point” is reached. And with Microsoft committing, we are getting closer and closer to that point.

Rio, here we come.

EcoSeed Staff  

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