Monday, July 05, 2010

Neat idea: publish a data-driven list of retailers' green practices

What if you want to support retailers that are more progressive and environmental than the average company? How do you know which ones to pick?

And if you help run a retailer, how do you know how to incrementally get more green relative to your peers?

Here's a neat idea: some non-profit run an annual ranking of retailers based on an objective assessment of their green practices. As an example: out of 100 points, they get 1 point for every ten percentage points of their electricity that is generates from renewable sources. With points awarded for clear, objective (and somehow verifiable) behavior, publishing the list will encourage companies to earn each additional point by improving their environmental behavior.

I was inspired by this from looking at a J. Crew catalog today. On the cover was a notice of their commitment to sustainability in the use of their paper sourcing through the Forest Sustainability Council certification process (with a particular certification number from the FSC) where they use 30% of post-consumer content and they only get wood from sustainable forests.

Looks like a campaign from Forest Ethics out of San Francisco has helped to put just this kind of public pressure on companies. They put out an annual Santa-themed naughty-or-nice ranking of big mailers (check out the 2008 version and the 2009 version).

The neat idea would be to expand this ranking into other objective assessments (perhaps with the purchase of renewable electricity, or LEED certification for their buildings or similar commitments to green sourcing) to not only put pressure on our companies but also offer companies a clear roadmap to earning better environmental credentials among the many citizens who care.

Part of the trick will be to determine exactly what those objective assessments should be. And part of the trick will be to get the publicity and credibility that the environmental measurements are legitimate and worth considering. But no one can manage what they can't measure, so the sooner we come up with some fair measurements of behavior (X% of resources devoted to renewable energy or X pounds of paper generated per employee or revenue or X% of products sold with renewable/organic/sustainable content), the sooner companies can work to achieve those objectives. That would be incremental progress -- the only kind there is!

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