Imagine asking today how the Internet affects business. It's an absurd question, like asking how electricity changed business. Asking the same about sustainability, it turns out, is equally absurd. Like the Internet, sustainability spurs innovation in everything, from how you see your business model to whether you see your employees (why not let them work at home more?). Here are our favorite ways companies today are greening up—and saving money and making better widgets in the process.
1 At $100 a ton, feeding a landfill is pricey. But in the past two years,
2 Moore's Law is great for producing speedier devices, but it's hell on the environment. According to Greenpeace, demand for new technology creates 4,000 tons of e-waste an hour, which often ends up on dead-hardware mountains in India, Africa, and China. Enter take-back programs, in which customers return spent technology to manufacturers, who recycle the parts for new gadgets. The United States has long lagged behind many European nations, which mandate the programs, but that's finally changing.
3 Trains were already the cleanest way to move massive amounts of freight long distances, but
4 Not to be outdone in the freight game,
5 Austin-based concert promoter C3 Presents made news when it banned Styrofoam cups from the sixth annual Austin City Limits Music Festival this year. Beneath the quick-hit media pop was a deeper story: Following the model the company created for Lollapalooza, C3 took a holistic approach to greening nearly every aspect of ACL, from bamboo-based concert T-shirts to gel sanitizer in the bathrooms to bio-diesel power generators.
6 It's not just hippies making the special-events world eco-friendly. The Philadelphia Eagles claim to be the greenest team in the NFL—and not just because of the color of its jerseys. Starting this season, the team's "Go Green" environmental campaign has its stadium cleaning crew making two full sweeps after each game—one to pick up recyclables and another for trash.
7 First we counted calories, then carbs. Now it's carbon, as retailers introduce product labels that encourage customers to weigh their eco-sins. The most ambitious: British grocery giant Tesco, which has a program to label all 70,000 of its products with carbon breakdowns.
8 Hamburger Helper helps your hamburger … save the planet? This year, General Mills redesigned the packaging of Mom's old standby, shaving off 20% of the paperboard box without shrinking its tasty contents. The astounding result: 500 fewer distribution trucks on the road each year.
9 Another recent player in the un-supersize movement,
10 Taking the packaging revolution a step further, the liquid-laundry-detergent industry, goaded by Wal-Mart, has cut the size of its bottles by 50% or more by concentrating the liquid to two and sometimes three degrees of magnitude. Unilever's triple-concentrated All Small & Mighty detergent has saved 1.3 million gallons of diesel fuel, 10 million pounds of plastic resin, and 80 million square feet of cardboard since 2005. This fall,
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A version of this article appeared in the November 2007 issue of Fast Company magazine.