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Can green firms grow in today's downturn?

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Makower: Yeah, greener businesses at the end of the day – done right and not done for PR reasons – are better businesses. [But] one of the interesting things that's happened in the last few years is that we've gone from this era of doing the right thing – doing well by doing good, which was basically about companies improving their bottom line by new efficiencies ... to a new era, which is simply: How do you grow the top line? How does being green provide a foundation for innovation, new products and services, whole new business models in some cases? And that's where this gets exciting and [becomes] a real business opportunity in any economy.

Can we tell what green means?

Makower: It's actually a big challenge.... We know what it means to be a green building. There's the LEED green-building standard. We don't have the equivalent for companies. So we're a little bit in the Wild West where anybody can say they're a green business.

Let's talk about the tip of the iceberg for a moment – green products. Will sales be tougher in the next few years?

Makower: Well, it's never been easy. Twenty years ago, I wrote a book called "The Green Consumer" and looked at this notion that there was a growing market for green products and that there were, more importantly, millions of consumers – 90 percent of Americans – who said that they wanted to buy green products from good companies. Well, guess what? That never really materialized.... The irony is that we're a lot greener consumers than we used to be – in spite of ourselves – because a [beverage] manufacturer, for example, has squeezed out the aluminum, tens of millions of pounds cumulatively over the course of a year, from aluminum cans without reducing the volume.

Is there a green product that really stands out to you?

Makower: Gosh, I don't know. I see what's coming and some of that's very exciting. But it has much more to do with the convergence ... of energy, information technology, buildings, and transportation. We're going to see some confluences of technologies where our cars and our homes and offices talk to one another through computing technology. And that's going to create a whole new world where we're thinking less about owning cars and more about door-to-door mobility and how we get to places; less about where we fill up than the demands of that [energy] coming from the grid.

Even automakers are using a green argument, among others, for a bailout. Do you buy that?

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