Public companies innovate to create greener products

HOST INTRO: Companies like Johnson & Johnson and General Electric are selling greener products to appeal to customers concerned about the environment. They say these products can serve their bottom line, but are just one piece in a push for better environmental practices. Claire Pires has the story.

According to Trucost, an environmental data company, the top 3,000 public companies were responsible for about a third of all global environmental damage. One way companies are trying to become greener is through their products. Al Iannauzzi is the head of Earth Wards. That’s a division at Johnson & Johnson focused on creating a greener environment. He says selling greener products is the key to helping the environment. Iannauzzi says a demand for greener products came when Wal-Mart, the largest single buyer of Johnson & Johnson products, demanded greener products of its suppliers. Iannauzzi says Wal-Mart’s demands are what got his division going.

IANNAUZZI: If we can bring more greener products to market, we’re gonna continue to reduce our impacts as a company and also meet customer demands.

He says Johnson & Johnson creates greener products through trying to be innovative while developing their products. He says Johnson & Johnson isn’t alone. He says General Electric is a company that has been successful with their focus on greener products. GE’s investment in its environmental research program, Ecomagination, has generated a total of over $130 billion of revenue since its launch in 2005.  According to GE’s website, last year, it invested almost $2 billion in the program and got back $25 billion in revenue. That’s good for companies that have to please shareholders.

IANNAUZZI: Companies struggle with not making it or making it too complex right so trying to make it easier and coming up with methods and processes to make it easier for R&D scientists and marketers to make products greener.

But simply developing greener products is not enough to offset environmental damage from companies. Mark Cane is a professor of earth studies at Columbia University. He says companies aren’t being environmental enough.

CANE: If Johnson & Johnson were to say, we will only buy energy from renewable sources after such and such a date even though it will cost us a good bit more, then, you know, that would be huge.

Cane recognizes that it’s hard to please everyone.

CANE: I suppose if their shareholders and customers were to renounce to say no, we’re not so interested in all the profits we can make or having the cheapest price, but we’d like to protect the environment, that would be good.

There’s a role to push for greener products within the government, too. Cal Broomhead works for the city of San Francisco in their Department of Environment. When it comes to government pressure, San Francisco has four ways that they push companies to be greener. They change the law, they provide tax breaks, and sometimes they provide funding, but one of the biggest things is that they provide information to companies. In San Francisco, the government told companies it would cost them less to build LEED gold.

BROOMHEAD: It was cheaper for them to build lede gold than it was to build to a lesser standard and, so once they found that out, our board found that out, they just made it a law, so it’s now the law of San Francisco, you have to build with LEED gold standard.

But customers have to be smart when they are in the store picking greener products.

BROOMHEAD: If you go to a store, a department store or whatever, and you look at what’s on the shelves, most of what’s on the shelves is gonna be in the landfill in a matter of months. And that is not sustainable.

Customers often don’t look at what they’re buying on those shelves. Every year, the United States generates approximately 230 million tons of “trash” –about 4.6 pounds per person per day. At Johnson & Johnson, Al Iannauzzi says they hope their customers will be smart shoppers.

IANNAUZZI: Do some research on the products that you’re purchasing and try to purchase from companies who are actually paying attention to this. So, it does take a little work on your part, and do a little research, but you know, you can figure it out if you put a little effort into it.

Individual customers, public companies, and the government are making that effort to create a sustainable environment but that environment will only be achieved if greener products become apart of a company’s larger effort to be innovative.

Claire Pires Columbia Radio News.

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