6 Trends in corporate sustainability

The chatter over whether renewable energy is worth it and if climate change is real is so loud that other parts of the emerging sustainability movement are muted. But corporations throughout the world, recognizing doing good for the environment also is good for their bottom lines, continue to quietly enhance their green team efforts.

Consider Lockheed Martin. It is one of the world's largest defense contractors, but also is a leader in sustainability, reaching its stated five-year environmental goals a year early.

The company met or exceeded its goals of reducing water use, waste-to-landfill and carbon emissions by 25 percent annually since 2007, while revenue climbed 12 percent in the same period. Lockheed Martin is an example of increasing awareness among Corporate America that going green can be profitable, rather than costly.

"Taking action to preserve resources is fundamental to securing against operational risks, extending the value of our business model, and expanding and enabling sustainable, profitable growth," Bob Stevens, chairman and chief executive officer, said in a statement.

The company slashed water use 25 percent, saving more than 1.5 billion gallons, or equivalent to water consumed by 3.9 million average U.S. households every day. Lockheed Martin upgraded heating and cooling equipment, installed low-flow fixtures and designed projects with sustainability in mind, such as landscaping in Denver, Colo. that reduces or eliminates supplemental water from irrigation.

Lockheed Martin cut its waste-to-landfill amount 39 percent, or 35 million pounds, compared to 2007, its baseline year, through recycling programs at multiple U.S. facilities, efforts in Marietta, Ga., that cut the amount of packaging required for major parts, and reducing cafeteria food waste at several facilities.

Carbon emissions fell 30 percent through energy efficiency efforts with lighting and HVAC systems, the purchase of renewable solar and wind energy, and innovations such as using wood waste to power a 1.6 million square-foot plant in New York state. The total carbon reduction equals the annual greenhouse emissions from more than 85,000 passenger cars.

Learn more in this press release from Lockheed Martin.

Lockheed, which is developing a hybrid unmanned aerial vehicle for the military (more here) is hardly alone when it comes to sustainability gains. Brewmeister Heineken is starting down the same path, according to this post, announcing reductions in carbon emissions and water use.

Continuing the beverage trend is Bacaradi, which announced these results. Meanwhile, hospitals, which are huge consumers of energy, are getting into the act. And we can't forget one of the biggest dogs of all, the U.S. military. Oil consumption among Army troops is equal to 15 to 22 gallons per day per soldier, and the Department of Defense contends sustainability is a security and economic issue. Check out this national security report .

More is likely to come. In the video below, Case Western Associate Professor and author Chris Lazlo shares ways corporations can instill sustainability into their processes.

Sustainability will grow as awareness increases, even though the tools of the trade are still in their infancy, according to this report by Ernst & Young and GreenBiz:

"These trends suggest that sustainability efforts are now well-integrated into the corporate fabric of a growing number of large and midsized companies. But the effectiveness of such efforts may be limited by internal systems that don’t allow companies to effectively measure, track and optimize their sustainability impacts, or to understand and manage the risks of insufficient action."

The authors have identified six trends in corporate sustainability:

1. Sustainability reporting is growing, but the tools are still developing
2. The CFO’s role in sustainability is on the rise
3. Employees emerge as a key stakeholder group for sustainability
programs and reporting
4. Despite regulatory uncertainty, greenhouse gas reporting remains
strong, along with growing interest in water
5. Awareness is on the rise regarding the scarcity of business resources
6. Rankings and ratings matter to company executives.

More businesses say sustainability is as important to the operation as safety and employee satisfaction, which is evidenced by growth of green teams even during the worst economic downturn since the 1930s.

The biggest reasons given for the emphasis on sustainability: Cost cutting, particularly energy expense, and increased revenue from brand awareness, changing consumer demand and staying ahead of the competition. In addition, equity analysts calculate sustainability into their evaluations.

photo image by Sanja Gjenero
video of Case Western Associate Professor by SustainableBrands