Be Sustainable by Being Profitable

Blog by Jennifer Schwab, SCGH Chief Sustainability Officer

LOS ANGELES– Think of the Red Hot Chili Peppers’ hit song, which preaches love not materialism. While co-hosting last week’s successful Opportunity Green conference held at Los Angeles Center Studios downtown, I couldn’t help but think of this song as I listened to the closing keynote by NIKE Vice President of Sustainable Business and Innovation, Hannah Jones.

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Jennifer Schwab and Boise Thomas hosting Opportunity Green 2011
(By Evelyn Lee)

As I looked out at the hundreds of participants who remained past 5 pm on Friday at Soundstage 6 – probably better recognized as the set for advertising period drama “Mad Men”–I couldn’t help but be impressed with their sheer brainpower, commitment, and courage. So many of these Rhodes scholars, Harvard MBAs, MIT PhDs, the full gamut of pedigreed brilliance, are trying to do great things but not making much money in their green and/or renewable energy businesses. Which brings me back to the thesis of Jones’s talk.

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Nike’s Hannah Jones presenting at Opportunity Green 2011
(By Joanne Decaro)

She is correct that sustainability is becoming a core value at many corporations throughout the world, as well as in many European governments. Unfortunately, the United States is not among that group, and the lack of carbon legislation hurts the green movement. Nevertheless, Hannah Jones suggests that many of the breakthrough technologies and best practices being developed by the pioneers at Opportunity Green should be made widely available as open-source information to serve the greater good. “We may be out of a job but the world and everyone else will be much better off,” she explained.

I must take issue with that. NIKE will surely be making shoes, no matter what, and there will be another job for a highly credentialed executive like Jones. No guarantees, however, for the thousands of others who are trying to make their way by developing, creating, and selling sustainable concepts, alternatives, and products.

Why should struggling green businesses have to give their hard-earned intellectual property away for free? Just because they are potentially game-changing contributions should not mean these entrepreneurs don’t get a payday. Lord knows, many of them could be earning far more in financial services or internet plays. One of the most inspiring things about Opportunity Green is actually meeting these star players who choose to devote their working lives to something more than a financial goal. Yes, of course a business must be profitable to sustain itself and compensate the employees, I am fully on board with that. I am not good, however, with the idea that because a new idea, product or technology is helpful to society, it should be discounted or given away.

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The Mutual presenting at the OG 25 Green Startup Competition
(By Joanne Decaro)

Furthermore, as much as I love all things green, I really don’t get the mindset that everything in the green world should be free or nearly free. Green businesses are especially guilty of not wanting to pay their colleagues, competitors, and co-conspirators for basic services rendered or product delivered. It’s always barter, contribute for a good cause, discount because we can’t afford it. Uncle! These are businesses, people’s livelihoods, and they need to become profitable to survive. It’s time for all green businesses to demand from themselves that they become viable businesses at all costs. Working for the greater good alone is admirable but, to use a bad pun, not sustainable.

Let’s make a resolution for 2012 that we will all give a fair day’s pay for a fair day’s work, and we will pay a fair markup for purchased products and services. If we can’t do this within our own community, how will we get the rest of the world to compensate us for our contributions?

One Response

  1. Jeffrey Howell November 27, 2011

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