CEF Spotlight

The State of Green Business, 2021


By Joel Makower, Chairman & Executive Editor, GreenBiz Group

There never has been a moment as opportune as this one to be talking about the intersection of business and sustainability. Our world has been rocked on several fronts, most notably by a global pandemic that has caused unspeakable carnage and hardship in every nation, none more so than the United States. Social unrest, the growing ravages of a changing climate, increasing economic inequality, continued racial strife — all contribute to the feeling that the world is unraveling before our eyes.

At the same time, the world is turning to big institutions to take on these big challenges. Governments, nonprofits and companies are being asked to step up their commitments and leadership across the full range of social and environmental issues. “Justice” is the new mantra — social, racial, climate, economic, environmental and others.

Tracking corporate progress on many of these issues has been the focus of the annual State of Green Business report, now in its 14th year. And while the emphasis has been primarily on environmental issues, the scope of this year’s report extends to include social impacts as well — how the environmental challenges we face affect the well-being of families and communities across the economic spectrum.

Once again, we have partnered with S&P Global Trucost, which has provided the metrics and analysis for the State of Green Business Index, which begins on page 88. While these metrics are lagging indicators, they nonetheless provide insight into the direction companies are headed — and whether the private sector is moving at the scale, scope and speed necessary to address the challenges and seize the opportunities before us.

During 2020, amid the economic, social, political and public health crises we encountered, corporate sustainability continued to move forward. Indeed, somewhat paradoxically, it was given a lift by the attention paid to these other issues. Like sustainability, all are viewed as systemic challenges requiring massive shifts in how economies and societies operate, and in a way that not only takes care of those whose economic welfare may be at risk due to these transitions, but that expands opportunity for all. Thanks to COVID-19 and the other challenges we’ve encountered, the idea of rapid, large-scale global action now seems more than a mere pipe dream.

In this report, we look at how, and how much, the private sector is doing its part to lead the change.

All told, it’s an encouraging story at a dispiriting time. The march of progress in sustainable business continues inexorably, as the leading edge continues to push forward. During 2020, for example, the notion of net-zero climate (and other) commitments accelerated, to the point where “yet another” net-zero announcement was a non-story to those of us in the news business. Just a couple years ago, the idea was barely on our radar. A few years before that, zero-waste factories, sustainable finance and circular products and services were similarly seen as improbable, even exotic. Now, they’re mainstream.

What will the next-next thing be in sustainable business? We offer some hints in the first half of this report, where we present 10 trends to watch in the year ahead. But we also love to be surprised, to watch trends emerge and become the new normal, seemingly out of nowhere. Of course, they don’t just magically appear. They are the result of visionary leaders taking bold stands and doing hard work over months and years.

The aforementioned State of Green Business Index makes up the balance of this report, looking back over the past five years on a wide range of metrics, including some new ones this year, such as how environmental, social and governance, or ESG, scores have aligned with companies’ financial performance.

Looking forward, looking back: It’s how we gain perspective and realign ourselves to the challenges and opportunities before us. We at GreenBiz Group have been doing that for more than two decades. It continues to be an inspiring, invigorating perch from which to watch companies, communities and systems of commerce evolve to meet the moment.

As always, I hope you enjoy this year’s report and look forward to your comments.


Excerpted from The State of Green Business 2021 Report by Joel Makower and the editors at GreenBiz. Copyright 2020. Reprinted with permission of GreenBiz Group Inc.

To download The State of Green Business 2021 Report, click here.

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