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Sustainable Me

Written by, Samuel K. Burlum, Investigative Reporter
and author of The Green Lane, a syndicated column
Published on 7/19/12 by The Alternative

Many Fortune 500 companies have a roadmap around sustainability and environmental mitigation.  There is statistically a correlation between economic reward and environmental stewardship. Firms such as Wal-Mart, BJ Wholesale, General Electric are just a few who have designed a framework of institutional practices and procedures that limit risk and liabilities while maximizing their employment opportunities and profits.

These same practices and procedures are tools that are not just for large corporations.  In tough economic times every edge to save resources and consider environmental concerns into our daily business should be a consideration.

To begin we have to understand what is true sustainability?

Sustainability is the ability to endure; and the ability to maintain economically, environmentally, and socially our community in a whole.

I usually view sustainability as the balancing act between positive growth (growth behind economic drivers) and the relationship to preserve our environment for the long term.  Sustainable modeling in the business community is mostly viewed as one company pulling itself up by its own boot straps while considering the people, community, and environment as a part of smart planning.

So how is it done?  Whether you are a small business to a medium enterprise, or a large fortune 500 company, the basics are all the same. The financial and economic factors and liabilities are the same.  Even when one examines the public perception, the only thing that is different is the amount of zeroes and commas in the bottom line.  We all have an inherent responsibility to address these concerns, and it is only to our benefit to do so.   So here are some of the top 10 concerns to take into consideration both economically and environmentally when addressing sustainability when establishing visionary and profitable policy:

  1. Self-Responsibility and Self Choice. Sustainability begins with us as an individual if we are going to take personal responsibility of our own movement and actions.  From the simplest of steps such as recycling in our own home or office to limiting the amount of times we turn the ignition key of our vehicle to go just a mile down the street is a matter of self-choice. It is a lifestyle, and it can be designed to what works for each of us as an individual.  This is not a one size fits all by any means however it does mean we choose to be aware of our environmental impact on the world around us.  Once we have recognized the value of others and the value of the community around us, it is easy to put us aside for the bigger plan that includes our neighbor.  Everything that we choose has an impact on someone else; and with that comes the responsibility to choose a lifestyle that is healthy economically and environmentally.
  1. Information, News, and Education. Today our media has become a three ring circus of water downed smash and grab, shock news entertainment. Consider the source in where economic and environmental projections and information come from. Many individuals make choices about economic and environmental concerns based on emotion, instead of facts and logic.  When we know the score of the facts, we than can properly look at the situation.  What is truly your financial picture and how does that map into carbon footprint?  The news is not the place to get this.  Internal modeling of your spending habits will demonstrate these liabilities.  Where to go for the latest educational forums about how environmental relates to economics?  There are several professional workshops held by the New Jersey Environmental Federation and Northeast Sustainability Communities Workshop, that provide platforms and resources on how to institute products and practices into a company’s operations and supply line.  More and more news is moving to online, so you can say goodbye to print and hello to the digital media world, especially when the reader can engage on the fly in real time right from their smart communications device.
  1. Embracing the Innovation. Innovation that provides an economic and environmental benefit needs to be captured and implemented.  From solar and wind powered electric generation equipment to new technology in transportation, green related products and services that provide a return on investment are everywhere.  Most of these creations are the child of a local inventor, an enthusiast who found a solution to an issue out of necessity.  In most recent years, technology that is usually home grown, spins off to home grown financial investment, local job creation, and eventually, local community re-investment from profits of product sales.  Also by utilizing innovative technology, there is a savings benefactor, where businesses can use proceeds from energy discounts and savings for more valuable asset upgrades and employment strategies.
  1. Transportation. Alternative fuel powered vehicles, electric cars, and battery hybrid powered vehicles are a great vision for the future, but let’s face the reality in the room; they just cost too much.  Most small business fleets cannot absorb the cost fast enough.  All products and services involve some sort of vehicle (metaphor for a delivery system), and wheels on the ground is one of the largest ways we get goods or services from point A to point B.  By incorporating innovative aftermarket technology or sharing services with another like business (who might not be a competitor) will allow for some of the cost of moving product to be minimized, in some cases disappear.  Example is you begin to notice that some of the bread companies and snack food companies have consolidated their delivery efforts and now use each other’s trucks to deliver goods to market, saving time, money, fuel, and labor.
  1. Energy. Our society just cannot continue the track it is on in energy consumption.  Infrastructure in the energy grid is severely compromised, and for every inch of power line needed to deliver electric to the consumer, is another inch that we have a loss of power on a grid system that should have gone the way of the doe-doe bird.  Localized generation and smart grid technology utilizing software systems can have a profitable impact of mitigating loss, and providing the most energy over longer distances.  Fossil fuels also add to the burden since an entire economic system is tied to how much a barrel of oil will cost today on the worldwide market.  Take into considerations the small things one can do to save money on energy and fuel.  A simple thing like walking one mile instead of the one mile drive, or turning off the light switch when someone is not in the room can have a huge effect if we all partake in those practices.  The majority of our hard earned income goes to fuel in the tank or energy to run our home or office.
  1. Reverse Logistics and Supply Chain. Take a hard look at the real cost of that head of lettuce from California, if you might be a consumer in New Jersey.  That lettuce used water shipped from reservoirs from out of the state and harmful fertilizers that may have been trucked in from the south. Then it was wrapped in a plastic sealed package that most of the time does not protect the vegetables freshness when it embarks on a three week journey from the processing plant to the warehouse to the supermarket to your kitchen table.  Think about all of the cost and all of the movements and actions that had to be in place for that transactional piece to happen and the transfer of the good into your household to come to be.  Now think about this with every aspect of your business.  There you have it, loss of profit because of a long supply chain that we don’t study the impact of choices we make.  Buy locally supports local jobs.
  1. Jobs. Everyone climbs to the roof tops and yells the topic of jobs.  Sustainability very essence is about localized efforts to minimize negative environmental and economic impacts and increase productivity and profits.  When reverse logistics and supply chains are considered, we begin to add to the local employment rolls.  A study performed by the New Jersey Chamber of Commerce demonstrated for every small business in the state of New Jersey that can gain support, that we buy from on a consistent basis, that we encourage that business to do business with another NJ based business, there would be 90,000 new jobs added to the books.  Yet so many of us travel to the big box store located 20 miles away from our house, to save just $4 dollars on that item that normally would sell for $20.  Plan an evening out on the town locally and keep as much of your spending dollars within your local community.  Job creation depends on it.  On the other hand, the price of commuting long distance to work means more resources never make it home, as many people conduct their personal business where the money supply is.  If you are paying 25% of your income to making to work and back, you are spending too much time and money away from your home and family.
  1. Legislation and Regulation Has Not Yet Caught Up to the Market Place. Many of the mandates that businesses today must comply with hamper growth.  Elected officials make bad decisions based on bad information they have access to.  That does not mean they are bad legislators, it means as a market place we have not done a great job in stating our case for what we feel industry standards should be.  Elected officials every two to four years have elections, which do take front stage over the concerns of roadblocks that need to be cleared in order for industry growth to be experienced.  In some cases by the time you have a legislator who has the time to listen, they may have just been voted out of office.  Best case is to shoot for showcasing your concerns and products where you know key individuals will have face time with the audience to see what you as a business bring to the table.  Innovation can change or develop in a few months.  Policy and law take years to get passed.  This requires long term strategic planning and preparation.
  1. Community Engagement. Everyone wants the great idea, just not in their own back yard if it is going to disturb their private family gathering on a Sunday afternoon.  Most plans of a solar or wind power project or a green tech, clean tech manufacturing facility usually fall victim to the public fear of the unknown.  Excite the community by having them included as a part of the process.  The community will welcome your interest if they understand your project and you can clearly demonstrate value, economic impact, and self-policing practices that lessen environmental impact.  The community can provide for workforce, marketing, and transit opportunities.  It can also be a business largest nightmare if public relations and community process if not observed.
  1. What’s in it for me? Everyone wants to know what’s in it for me.  At the end of the day how much money are we really saving? How much environmental impact do we have to pay for?  I look to create the win-win, even for people who never purchase a product from our company, or take the time out to understand what it is that we do.  By sharing resources our vendors and neighbors save money and create opportunity.  By mass distribution on grass roots levels, we revert to the good old days when we knew the name of the delivery man who dropped off our purchase from that catalog we got in the mail.  The me factor is savings on the bottom line, with a greener cleaner tomorrow; beginning with small steps, ending and beginning with the same person; me, the self, the individual.

So I say “Sustainable Me,” and order up a main course of local job creation, with a side of environmental stewardship, with an extra serving of profitability.  I trust, it is a healthier meal than the fast food restaurant, and it’s a recipe we can be proud to teaching our children.

So begin living in The Green Lane

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