Green Business: Looking for Sustainability’s Tipping Point

Are we there yet?

Malcolm Gladwell taught us all to look for those moments when great ideas take off like a virus. Seemingly all of a sudden, the accumulation of small actions snowball into large-scale change.

He calls them tipping points in his book of the same name.

Have we reached the “tipping point” for when the Sustainability conversation swings past “optional” to “business critical and here’s how we are doing it”?

MIT Sloan Management Review skated close to it, but pulled the punch with Nears a Tipping Point” in its February 2012 report:

Sustainability Nears a Tipping Point

“The data suggest that the sustainability movement is nearing a tipping point, the point at which a substantial portion of companies are not only seeing the need for sustainable business practices but are also deriving financial benefits from these activities.

Almost a third (31%) of companies say sustainable business practices now contribute to their profits, and 70% say it’s now permanently embedded in their management strategy.

Some 70% of respondents who say their companies have put sustainability on the  management agenda say they have done so in the past six years–and from this group, 20% say it’s happened in the past two years.

(If you are just skimming, turn to page 3 for a bar chart that looks a lot–a lot–like the famous hockey stick graph describing our earth’s rising temperature.)

Since then, I’ve been keeping an eye on the increased buzz and a huge increase in corporate reporting and rankings.

Which Mark Gunther wrote about last week on

Why Sustainability Rankings Matter

This has been a big week for corporate sustainability rankings, with the Dow Jones Sustainability Index (DJSI) and the Carbon Disclosure Project releasing news reports.

Greenbiz’s Heather Clancy wrote a really nice write-up on the CDP report. She pegs the pressures being brought to bear on businesses to take action in the absence of government leadership:

“The new ‘normal’ for businesses is a period of high uncertainty, subdued growth and volatile commodity prices. If the regulatory certainty that tips significant long term investment decisions doesn’t come soon, businesses’ ability to plan and act, particularly around energy, supply chain and risk could be anything but ‘normal’.”

So, more momentum, more actions by more organizations, more media attention.

All well and good, but is it enough?Are we there yet?

I’m not sure, and I’m not sure we’ll know until we’re on the other side.

If we are truly at a point where most businesses, worldwide, are acknowledging, planning for, and acting to mitigate their climate change impact, I’ll be a happy camper.

Government support and structure will also play a key role. (In the U.S., we’ll know more on that score on Nov. 7.)

Then we’ll have to make the same shift with American consumers.

Won’t it be something when responsibly and prudently conserving our world’s natural resources will be the norm?

I sure hope so. And soon.

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