The science and technology breakthroughs that are helping companies create environmentally sustainable products and processes show big promise for impact that’s systemic. Yet within the economy, it will take widespread adoption to truly change how we do business.
Even as new products are released, they ultimately have to be something consumers make an active choice to use. As executive chairman of Beyond Meat, Seth Goldman has a leadership role at a company where the product expansion is driven by science, but ultimately looks to encourage consumers to shift to plant-based burgers and other meat substitute products that don’t involve animals.
At a recent edition of World Trade Center Institute’s (WTCI) AGILE Innovation speaker series, held at the Parkway Theatre, Goldman said he is seeing a shift among the younger, millennial generation as “open to change.”
“Consumers are basically saying, ‘I’m not just going to take the same-old same-old of my existing options.’ It’s still that barrier, but it’s changing really quickly and I think that’s what’s driving our opportunity,” said Goldman, who is also a cofounder of Honest Tea.
Internally, companies can also make choices in how they do business in a way that makes their employer stand out. As president and CEO of Annapolis-based Hannon Armstrong, Jeff Eckel plays a leading role in investing in sustainable infrastructure. With the firm’s focus on climate change comes a commitment, and he said it’s one that differentiates it.
“We have made a very bright line in the fact that we will not invest in things that produce incremental carbon. It’s very difficult for the incumbent capital providers to do that,” he said.
Ultimately, the solutions can come at the level where products are made. At Under Armour, Senior VP of Advanced Manufacturing and Materials Randy Harward said a key area where the company has made sustainability inroads is the process of dyeing fabric.
“There’s been a pretty serious effort over the last three years to completely change not just at Under Armour, but the way the whole industry dyes fabric,” he said. Along with reducing the time involved in the process, the changes have also cut the company’s water usage by two-thirds, so there’s an interplay between ROI for the company and the Earth. Harward said both are among the factors that must be considered for any “elegant” solution.
“In reality, just getting to the right, most efficient — I call it the most elegant solution — to any particular thing a customer needs, invariably is the more sustainable approach. The fact that people don’t believe that to me is the biggest problem,” he said.
WTCI’s Susan Aplin, who was moderating the evening and formerly led Baltimore-based sustainable home goods company Bambeco, she saw that interplay. People outside the business always assumed that the cost was greater once eco-friendly was factored in. In fact, she said, “our margins were very strong.”
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