Green (Fri)Day: How Big is the Green Economy?

On Wednesday the website released a big report on the “State of Green Business.(pdf)” Working mainly with government agency numbers, they scored the economy as a whole to be “treading water” in 10 categories, “sinking” in two, and “swimming” in eight–but for some of those, executive editor Joel Makower admitted they were “being generous.” (I agree. Take LEED-certified office space construction–it may be a “swimming” category in terms of square footage, but as I argue in an October story, LEED certification is not the be-all and end-all of environmental design.)

It’s dismaying to see that despite all the talk about “climate neutral” and “zero carbon,” America is making insignificant gains in carbon intensity–the greenhouse gases emitted per unit of GDP.

But where Greenbiz really did a good job was in being honest about the questions they asked but couldn’t answer.

For example, water use. “We wanted to measure water efficiency,” they wrote, “the amount of water used per unit of GDP. We were shocked to discover that there is no
annually updated metric for national water use.”

Or an even more basic question that’s certainly of interest to us here at Fast Company–the overall size of the green economy. “I must get 50 to 100 calls a year from people who have some version of the question: how big is the green business movement?” said Makower. If you restrict the question to ground-up, mission-driven green businesses, the Avedas and New Leaf Papers of the world, you’ll get one answer. If you count up the people working on GE’sEcomagination, Wal-Mart’s Sustainability 360 , and the US Climate Action Partnership, or the companies from Starbucks to Alcoa who have added “VPs of sustainability” to their corporate rosters, you’ll get a much bigger picture.