For the whole of this week, March 26 to March 30, HBS will host its third annual Green Week, a series of activities aimed at raising environmental awareness throughout the HBS community. Sponsored by the Student Association, the event is jointly organized by the Business and Environment Club (BEC), Restaurant Associates and HBS Operations.
Several events will take place during Green Week, including a debate on profit versus environmental sustainability starring the HBS Debate Team (Monday, 3pm), presentations by Andy Ruben of Wal-Mart (Tuesday, 4pm) and the CEO of Nau (Wed., 4pm), a panel on Greenhouse Gas Trading (Monday, 5pm) and a projection of green-themed movies every night at 7pm in the Spangler Auditorium.
With Green Week, the BEC aims to inform HBS students about the environment and the ways that businesses can help sustain it. This is an issue that will be a source of both threats and opportunities throughout our careers and lives. As future global leaders, HBS graduates will indeed have to address such serious challenges as global warming and the destruction of life-supporting ecosystems (which bring us clean air and water, flood and climate control, soil regeneration, crop pollination, food and medicine). At the same time, environment-related issues will be a source of business and entrepreneurial opportunities in sustainability-related fields such as green building, renewable energy (35% annual growth over the past five years for wind energy in Europe), and organic food (19% US growth since 1997 vs. 3% for total food).
In particular, the business world is seeing mainstream corporations redefining their business models to make them environmentally sustainable and profitable. In the case of Wal-Mart, the company has recently decided to put the environment at the center of its business strategy. On its website, Wal-Mart explains that “Environmental leadership is critical to our future ability to grow and thrive as a company…As a large international company, we know we must play our part to restore the life support systems of the earth…Fortunately, we’ve identified plenty of opportunities that, if captured, can transform our entire industry.” For example, by rolling out innovations and investments in its stores and trucking fleet, the company plans to reduce its overall greenhouse gas emissions by 20 percent over the next eight years, and save millions of dollars along the way. The company has also set a zero net waste goal, which it deems “good for business, great for the environment, and it even creates jobs,” and introduced an organic cotton line that sold out in just 10 weeks at Sam’s Club stores.
There has been great entrepreneurial activity in the green space, as well. Portland, Oregon-based Nau, for example, is a start-up sustainable apparel company that recently launched its inaugural line of clothes. Its vision is to define itself through the integration of economic, environmental and social factors into their unique business model.
Of late, there has been no shortage of media coverage on sustainability issues, appearing on the covers of publications such as The Economist, Vanity Fair, Business Week, Time, Wired and The National Geographic. This is not a topic in which the interest of HBS students should be a lagging indicator of significance.
Have a great Green Week!