The term “green” evokes a wide array of meanings, spanning political ideology, lifestyle choices, and climate change. So when businesses hear the term green, it’s no wonder there’s so much confusion.
Here are three trends where green is a key element, but not the key driver.
Sharing Is Changing Consumption and Commerce
The sharing economy permeates nearly every facet of every industry. From cars to the driveways left empty when they’re gone, the Internet has made it easier than ever to sell idle resources. Lisa Gansky, one of the catalysts helping companies tap into sharing, describes a perfect storm of accessible data, the open Web, and connected communities as a “cocktail” being tested by businesses in every vertical.
Companies should be looking inward at their own idle resources and figuring out how to provide that information to other businesses, or municipalities. New revenue streams will come from services that can be reconfigured or modified to operate within these sharing communities and networks.
“Data is a kind of connective tissue and when we liberate data (between communities, companies, investors, governments), we play better, faster,” Gansky said in a recent interview. She says that sharing is being accelerated by the next big social network, and it’s not Facebook. It’s the neighborhood.
The Economist built on that notion in a recent profile of the sharing economy’s impact: “The idea of renting from a person rather than a faceless company will survive, even if the early idealism of the sharing economy does not.”
Tapping Into Greener Transportation
Businesses are finding ways to tie into the rise of walk-able communities. Marketing opportunities are everywhere as smartphones become more connected to the open data available on the Web. Companies like RideScout can now deliver multiple transit options to its users, whether they prefer pedicabs or Car2Go.
The transparency of transit data has much larger implications, especially when it comes to cities. That’s one of the areas where opportunity exists for small business. Faced with rising populations, traffic congestion and parking woes, city officials are taking matters into their own hands.
Portland is a prime example, highlighted in a recent CitiWire article: “It has a 35-year-old urban growth boundary to curb sprawl, plus America’s only regional governance structure. It leads in transportation – not just regional light rail but America’s first streetcar service of recent times.”
That’s an approach that should buoy businesses in every sector, certainly ones that adapt their products and services to complement the urban density model that continues to develop. It’s an obvious step to see all sorts of businesses eventually appear alongside the bus routes on RideScout’s app.
The nation’s capital has similar initiatives for which sustainable transportation is the centerpiece of economic development.
The CitiWire article goes on to report, “[Washington D.C.] Mayor Vincent Gray has just unveiled proposals to create the ‘healthiest, greenest and most livable’ city in America with a raft of measures to curb energy use, reduce traffic and boost use of fresh fruits and vegetables. By 2032, a quarter of all commuter trips would be by bike or foot and at least half by public transit. Major chunks of energy would be delivered from nearby wind farms.”
Other cities are sure to follow as fuel prices rise, populations increase, and better infrastructure emerges. Businesses that capitalize on these trends will reap the early awards.
The Built Environment and Boosting Your Profile
Improving productivity and differentiating your business are constant challenges. An easy way to boost both is by plugging into the green building movement. Aligning with local providers that can help with energy rebates can easily spur some economic gains. Beyond the numbers, productivity can also be lifted through smarter and more efficient design. Healthier employees are happier and more productive.
A recent New York Times article highlighted research from an affordable housing community in Seattle that showed how small changes can have big effects. Spurred by medical research, a local coalition of architects, designers and citizen-led groups were able to impact asthma rates within 60 “Breathe Easy Homes” with better air filters, less carpet, and low-allergen landscaping.
The Times reports, “A study in 2010 performed by the University of Washington School of Public Health found that the Breathe Easy residents had reduced emergency room and urgent care visits by 67% and that symptom-free days had increased by 61%. As designers, that was the first time that we had really seen a direct relationship shown between the built environment and the health of residents.”
It’s easy to see how that could translate to your workplace.
Another project that promotes healthy work sites is the Sustainable Sites Initiative (SITES), an organization started to accelerate best practices in sustainable land development and management. It has pilot projects across the country that are taking green spaces beyond atria and waterfalls.
By using SSI’s framework for “healthy ecosystems,” commercial businesses can cut costs and drive efficiency with better land-use decisions. Whether it’s a restaurant, corporate campus, or small business, standards are emerging to address everything from native landscapes and irrigation, to zero waste and air quality.
The U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC), an SSI partner, says it anticipates certain guidelines and benchmarks might be included in future iterations of the LEED(Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) Green Building Rating System.
USGB’s commitment shows how the big picture is starting to play out for businesses in every industry. Companies of all sizes are being judged not only by how much they’re growing, but how that growth impacts surrounding communities.
This article first appeared in Forbes.