Is the Green Movement a Passing Fancy?

Please tell me that "green" isn't a fad.

I don't know about you, but for the past two years I have been on green overload. Everywhere I turned, read, listened, and watched, the race to say "I am greener than you" has been on for individuals and businesses alike.

But that was then. With a struggling economy and oil prices falling fast, I think we will soon see just how real all those green aspirations are. And I for one sure hope the commitment to the environment and green technology is enduring. Unfortunately, I am not so sure that's the case. I just read the results of a recent corporate responsibility survey conducted by Business for Social Responsibility and Cone LLC and found them troubling.

According to the survey, in the face of the current economic conditions, 31% of respondents see their corporate and social responsibility budgets decreasing; another 26% say it's too early to determine the impact of the economic crisis on their corporate responsibility plans.

Smart Business for Everyone

So maybe we need to reset the way we think about environmental responsibility. At Xerox (XRX), my job is to meet the needs of our customers and our shareholders. The thing is, what I do at my job and how I do my part for the environment are not mutually exclusive. "Green" is not a corporate function housed in a separate unit devoted to social responsibility; green solutions and sustainable strategies are smart business—for everyone. The greener we get, the more we can reduce costs and boost efficiency. The more we reduce costs, the more productive a business can become and the better we can weather the maladies of the global business market.

Let me give you some examples. In 2006, Xerox saved $18 million because of efforts to reduce greenhouse gases. Through sound energy management, new and innovative manufacturing technologies, more efficient heating and cooling equipment in our facilities, and reducing the miles traveled by our service fleet, we have achieved an 18% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions since 2002. We've raised our goal to a 25% decrease by 2012.

But this isn't just about what Xerox is doing. S.C. Johnson implemented a transportation logistics project that saved the company $1.6 million a year. Wal-Mart (WMT) reduced costs by $1 million a year just by shutting off the lights in its vending machines.

Wall Street Likes Green

Other information-driven businesses are achieving huge savings, too. According to the educational and consulting firm Uptime Institute, an enterprise whose computing workload rises 15% annually can save more than $140 million over four years largely by making existing data centers more efficient, rather than building new ones. In doing so, it's also cutting its carbon dioxide emissions almost by half.

A green office can save you a bundle as well. Dow Chemical (DOW), which spent over $100 million on desktop printing over five years, consolidated printing devices from 16,000 to 5,000 company-wide. While saving paper and reducing its overall environmental impact, Dow estimates that it will save between 20% and 30% on printing costs annually.

And here is a nice little side benefit: It seems that Wall Street sees the value of green as well. According to a Thomson Reuters (TRI) study, 82% of investors evaluate environmental, social, and governance criteria as part of their investment decision because they believe these actions impact share price.

No Turning Back

Now is not the time to cut investment in green technology and environmentally beneficial business practices. No, now is the time to keep those investments that deliver a real, measurable return—where your business, your customers, and the world in which we live can reap the reward.