Here's What Small Business Leaders Can Learn From Big Businesses About Going Green

"We're still here." So begins the State of Green Business Report from GreenBiz.com. The big news according to the report, is that green businesses were not the first to go during the Great Downturn.

green business, entrepreneur, socially responsible corporations, social enterprise, sustainability, innovative, collaboration, small business leadersI think the big news is even bigger: Green innovations and going green have become expected and accepted standards for smart business leaders.

This is no longer about Earth Day and wearing funky sandals. It's about businesses becoming aware that good things – water, clear air, forests, oil – can come to an end if we don't use them wisely.

The lengthy report is a good read, not only because it is encouraging to see that "planet" is making steady gains in the bottom-line calculations of businesses, but also because the report is full of amazing developments in green-ness.

Developments such as Walmart's sustainability index in 2009, a step in developing a process to assess the impact of the megastore's suppliers on people and the planet. And Walmart started a Sustainability Consortium to set industry-wide standards for sustainability. As the report states, this is an amorphous organization but still! This from the company best known for the mistreatment of workers in its supply chain and in its stores. Maybe the leopard can change its spots!

Major companies, from FritoLay to Nike, from Coca Cola to McDonald's, have started programs to save energy, reduce waste, and use more earth-friendly materials. They're trying to be socially responsible corporations.

Another interesting development brought out by the report is the collaboration among very big businesses to develop technologies that are good for the planet.

"Eco-Patent Commons was launched in 2008 by IBM, Nokia, Pitney-Bowes, Sony, the World Business Council on Sustainable Development, and others to contribute environmental patents to the public domain," according to the report.

In 2009, Eco-Patent booked its 100th "IP-free" innovation, that is, "Intellectual Property-free" idea that is open to the public to use or tweak.

GreenXchange launched with the premise that change happens when people exchange ideas, in this case ideas about green product design, packaging, manufacturing, and so on. 2009 marked the birth of a number of such sharing groups.

This is exciting stuff, not only because people are thinking green – that's good – but what's really exciting is that this is a new way of doing business: collaboration instead of competition. It's a wiki, wiki world!

Every page of the document is chock full of innovative, socially responsible initiatives by big businesses and small businesses. (Just when you thought there's nothing more to recycle, someone has come up with six more ways to do it better and more efficiently. Did you think that cookie wrappers could be made into backpacks?)

And you can learn some new terms by reading the report: the Snackwells Effect, vertical farming, radical transparency.

The report and the many innovative enterprises described may inspire you to aim higher in your own social responsibility efforts or to undertake a whole new direction for your business.

As the report stresses, we haven't saved the planet yet, but the creative juices are certainly flowing. I, for one, am heartened that major corporations have built environmental goals into their business models and that entrepreneurs are turning their talents toward a greener world.

Have you heard of any innovative approaches to helping the environment? Tell me about them.

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