As we round out the first decade of the new century, business sustainability in the U.S. is coming of age. The federal carbon regulations that at this time last year seemed likely to shape the next chapter of business sustainability did not emerge, and it's now clear that the boardroom, more than the halls of congress, will be leading the charge for corporate social responsibility as we forge ahead.
An overwhelming majority of Fortune 500 companies now voluntarily measure, manage, and publicly disclose their carbon emissions; and a bevy of hi-tech software solutions, clean technologies, and market tools have evolved in recent years to meet these demands.
So what's on the horizon for the world of business sustainability management? Four key trends to keep an eye on in 2011 include:
Supply chain management. Heavyweights Walmart, IBM, P&G, and the U.S. GSA have all recently initiated supplier carbon management programs that are now being phased in, forcing hundreds of thousands of smaller companies to consider their impacts. And the World Resources Institute, is just now putting the finishing touches on authoritative new supply chain and product lifecycle greenhouse gas protocols that will frame what's expected to be a burgeoning wave of value chain sustainability accounting and reporting. With their own direct emissions under clear management for years, leading businesses are now turning their focus outward to their spheres of influence, a trend likely to grow in importance.
Employee engagement. While many companies have begun to sense the potential of engaging employees in sustainability programs, few have implemented successful programs to harness it. Still, new studies are showing that smart engagement can dramatically boost the triple bottom line, and that CEOs are starting to awaken to this fact. The most ambitious employee engagement program to date may be Walmart's PSP, but the rise of social media is empowering a host of creative new employee initiatives aimed at improved sustainability and profitability.
Software decentralization. The first generation of enterprise carbon accounting software has as yet been largely unaffected by two major transformations in the greater software ecosystem: migration to the cloud, and the rise of open source software. But expect the next generation to reflect these evolutions, with functionality moving to disaggregated web-based providers, and with source code and reference data opened to help ensure quality and transparency.
Regional regulation. Announcements in recent weeks that California and New Mexico will initiate statewide cap and trade systems have reinvigorated climate hawks, boosted lagging carbon offset markets, and added momentum to proposed regional carbon trading programs in New England, the Midwest, and the Southwest. Don't expect these groups to be the only ones stepping in to fill the void left by unrealized federal legislation.
Against a backdrop of rather tepid near-term macroeconomic projections, market forecasters predict ongoing growth rates well into the double digits for corporate sustainability services, a market already valued in the billions of dollars. Sustainability is now big business in the U.S., and the way it evolves and matures over coming years will shape the way we all do business of any kind.
Patti Prairie added "treehugger" to her distinguished 30-year career spanning resume when she became Chief Executive Officer of Brighter Planet. This innovative company has a socially responsible mission: to help people manage their environmental footprint. With its practical, carbon emission reducing solutions, Brighter Planet is committed to making it easier for anyone to get involved in the fight against climate change.