Businesses surfing green wave risk a reputation wipe-out

By Angela Dorizas

SYDNEY: Australian businesses failing to act on climate change face a “tsunami-like situation,” warns prominent environmentalist and author, Guy Pearse. His comments were made yesterday at a Lexmark environmental breakfast.

According to Pearse, corporate Australia is failing to prepare itself for the imminent “green wave” and associated cost crunch.

“When we start pricing resources and energy, things like fossil fuels, water and waste disposal become significantly more expensive,” Pearse said.

“If you then think through all of the everyday products and services that rely on those inputs, the ubiquitous price pressure that we are going to see becomes that much more apparent.”

The new wave of environmental consciousness has created strong hype, but most companies are only implementing stop-gap measures to appease consumers.

“Presently, most ‘green wave surfers’ are less interested in saving the environment for the money it saves them and their customers, but more interested in looking as green as possible, as cheaply as possible for pure marketing purposes,” Pearse said.

“This approach risks reputational wipe out in the long term. It is characterised by lots of colour and movement, distractions, token gestures, spin, and a very keen focus on process as opposed to progress.”

This approach is characterised by “headline commitments” to reducing environmental impacts per unit of output, self regulated codes of conduct, certification and compliance with international standards, advisory committees and participation in well promoted one-off environmental events, Pearse said.

“It is not to say that any of these things in and of themselves are bad, they’re not, some of them are quite useful. But, you tend to see them being used in combination to give an impression of change, when real change may not be occurring,” he added.

Pearse also criticised carbon offsetting.

“You will see bandaid measures, like buying up a few carbon offsets, but only for one or two well promoted product lines, to give the appearance of environmental improvement when overall, things may still be heading in the wrong direction,” he said.

There are, however, some companies making real change in this era of superficial “eco consumerism.”

“They are not waiting for scarcity, price shocks, regulation or new technology — let alone spending money to try and delay these things,” Pearse said.

“They are embracing them now and doing what they can to reduce their exposure to price shocks in energy, resources and waste disposal, not just for themselves but for their customers. They are trying to drive profitable environmental savings up and down supply chains.”

Pearse urged businesses to avoid “tick-the-box measures” and ride the green wave ashore.

“If we are going to be judged by our exposure to the green wave and how we are going to handle it, the trick will be turning the environment to a competitive advantage, rather than a liability,” he said.

Lexmark used the event to highlight its own environmental agenda and encourage its customers and clients to follow suit. The printer vendor is taking a “holistic” approach to environmental performance, said Lexmark marketing manager, Stephen Bell.

“Our goal is sustainability, where we can meet the needs of the current generation without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs,” Bell said.

Lexmark has undertaken a Life Cycle Assessment with British-based Bio Intelligent Services, in accordance with ISO14000 principles. The company has also ensured that 99 per cent of printer materials are recyclable and has reduced packaging size by 24 per cent, thereby cutting the quantity of pallets and trucks required for transporting goods. Other initiatives include Energy Star certification, carbon offsetting and in-house reductions in waste and energy consumption.

Lexmark is also a Tier-1 foundation partner of Cartridges 4 Planet Ark, Bell said. Through the recycling program, Lexmark has diverted more than 1.1 million kg of printer materials from landfill.

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