With the midterm elections next month, it’s worth noting that the environment doesn’t appear to be much of a political football this year. Most of the ads I’ve seen have focused on the economy, health care and the character of the opposing candidate.

Candidates seem to realize that a majority of voters care about the environment. While their views may differ on global warming or cap-and-trade, candidates understand that being perceived as anti-green will not help their political future.

A compelling point made Aug. 31 during the 2010 Green Manufacturing Summit in Milwaukee is that climate change has moved past being a political or even an environmental issue. Many companies have incorporated their sustainability initiatives into their business strategy, said attorney Mark Thimke.

“Businesses are regulating business by implementing their own greenhouse-gas reduction programs,” he said. “We’re even seeing businesses imposing standards on other businesses, as has been the case with Walmart’s suppliers.”

Thimke referred to the “Walmart factor,” which encompasses the retailer’s own high-profile sustainability program as well as the pressure it puts on its suppliers and, by example, its competitors to go green. Walmart’s business strategy addresses its image among consumers as well as its internal costs.

Walmart is working to make its supply chain more efficient, which will help it lower prices and keep it more competitive, Thimke said. Other companies taking a similar approach include Ford, Nike, Hewlett-Packard and Kohl’s.

“In our third year of hosting this growing event, it’s plain to see that sustainable strategies and technologies are not only here to stay, they are advantageous to businesses on several fronts,” said Mike Sipek, chief operating officer of Bradley Corp. “It’s motivating to hear how green manufacturing processes lower utility and operating costs, reduce companies’ carbon footprints, boost employee morale and retention and reduce risks of future energy price spikes.”

Keynote speaker Tom Eggert said venture capitalists and corporate investors have invested $4 billion in green start-ups. Eggert, executive director of the Wisconsin Sustainable Business Council, added that the U.S. Department of Energy last year allocated $36.7 billion to energy-efficiency and alternative-energy projects.

“In 2009, during one of the worse financial crises in recent history, the wind market grew 39%,” he said.

Ironically, federal stimulus money stalled some energy-efficiency projects last year, said Thomas Content, energy reporter with the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel. A number of companies delayed their purchases while applying for stimulus funds and finding out if they qualify.

“This year, the money is starting to flow,” he said.

The plumbing industry will see an increasing amount of attention paid to water.

“About 2.6 billion people have no access to clean water, a problem not isolated to developing countries,” Eggert said. “This has pushed water issues up the environmental agenda and will become a new focus in 2010 and 2011.”   

Federal stimulus dollars will help some of your customers achieve their green objectives. In the end, though, those dollars should be what they’re intended to be – a stimulus.

As the Walmart factor becomes more prevalent, companies will make themselves more green as part of their business strategy. They’ll see a return on their investment in their lower energy and water bills. These companies will make themselves more efficient and more competitive.

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