15 October 2012

Green eLearning: On-Line Business Sustainability Education

Learn how to
make the
business case
"Green is nice, but the real reason businesses do it is to save money." Now on-line learning tools make these money-saving advantages available to every business.

Big multinational businesses have been spending billions for many years to make their products, facilities, supply chains and operations more "green" and more "sustainable". The main driving force has been the ability to save money by reducing waste and inefficiency.

Many smaller and medium-sized businesses have yet to sieze these competitive advantages. This is partly because "green" seems like a luxury, rather than a business necessity, and because it seems confusing and complicated. True, it is complex, and changing rapidly, but the benefits of improved efficiency and cost savings are so important that every business should be taking advantage of them.

Fortunately, many good on-line sustainability learning tools for business have become available. These can be a very quick and cost-effective way for businesses to get up the sustainability learning curve, and to actually see concrete benefits in their operations.

  • Some courses are quite elaborate, more like on-campus executive education programs, both in content and price. An example is the University of Vermont's Advanced Certificate in Sustainable Innovation. It offers three eight-week courses, and costs thousands of dollars.
  • Other programs offer more detailed technical training. For instance, Schneider Electric's Energy University offers courses on such topics as "Boiler Types and Opportunities for Energy Efficiency" and eight courses on "Building Controls".
  • A recent entrant is the Talearnt Green Tech program, which is kicking off with a free mini-course on "Basics of Business Sustainability", targeted at managers in small and medium-sized businesses and those who aspire to business careers. [Full disclosure: I am the Director of the Talearnt Green Tech program, and the instructor for the "Basics of Business Sustainability" course.]

My opinion is that every business can save money and become more competitive by reducing waste and increasing efficiency. Businesses starting today can learn from the successes and failures of those that have gone before. But you should follow a proven method: walk before you try to run. The savings from early, easy green actions can help pay for more complex projects later. Don't start with hard-to-justify green branding programs or capital-intensive on-site renewables schemes. Start at the beginning.

Since every business can benefit from effective green action (and maybe help save the planet a little at the same time), that means every manager and every employee should understand sustainability issues. And these inexpensive, efficient, and effective on-line programs can be an essential tool to build those skills and achieve both corporate and career goals.

Image credit: Everaldo Coelho and YellowIcon from https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Crystal_Clear_app_business.png

12 October 2012

What Adam Smith Said About Making Businesses Sustainable

Adam Smith said many insightful things in his book An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations. He didn't have a great deal to say about what we currently call "sustainability", the efforts of companies to be more "green". But he did point out what motivates businesspeople to do things, and these motivations also apply to getting businesses to reduce their (and thus our) environmental impacts.

Green is nice, but the real reason companies do it is to save money.

Unless you are a hermit or a subsistance farmer disconnected from all commerce, most of your environmental impact is due to things you buy. That includes food, shelter, electricity, gas, water, stuff (like cars, clothes, books, or electronics), services (like travel, education, entertainment, cloud computing, waste disposal, or health care), food, motor fuel, public services, and all sorts of other purchases. Thus your environmental footprint is essentially the environmental footprint of the producers and deliverers of those products and services--mostly businesses. They affect the environment as they produce and deliver those things you demand.

You can reduce your environmental footprint by buying and consuming less of those products and services. For example, you could probably cut your carbon footprint in half by taking fewer car and airplane trips (if any) and using a bicycle or telepresence instead. Or maybe you could eat less beef.

But those businesses (or public agencies) that provide those products and services could also help you reduce your environmental footprint by becoming more efficient in their own operations. And they have a very strong motivation to become more efficient: it can save them money and thus increase their profits.

Self-Interest Gets Things Done

We can try to urge businesses to be more sustainable for the good of the planet, or we can try to force them to be more sustainable with laws and regulations. But as Professor Smith perceived, the strongest motivation for any business is its own self interest. And if you look at what businesses are actually doing that results in reduced environmental footprints you can see that saving money, increasing sales, and remaining competitive is exactly what is driving them.

(For some examples and more discussion of why and how businesses can be more efficient, and more green, and more profitable, you are welcome to access the free Talearnt Green Tech Basics of Business Sustainability mini-course.)

You can read this famous passage of The Wealth of Nations here.