It was a former colleague's idea. Let's launch something at our inaugural awards, give the evening some sort of hook, a statement of intent, a charter perhaps.
From there the case for some sort of statement of values became obvious – so obvious that we were left a bit confused as to why we hadn't thought of it before.
One of the challenges BusinessGreen faces is that the audience it serves and the movement it covers is remarkably broad. The development of the low-carbon economy is so wide-ranging, so all-encompassing, that those executives at the forefront of green business need to be kept abreast of the latest news, opinion and analysis from across the entire sector.
For example, carbon regulations can have a knock-on impact on everything – from solar parks to biofuel investments, and corporate reporting requirements to green marketing campaigns. Equally, developments in wind energy technology are of importance to engineers working on all forms of low-carbon technologies, as well as policymakers from Whitehall to Beijing.
Renewables, nuclear, clean coal, smart grid, green building and sustainable transport technologies are all inextricably linked, while at the same time tied to broader policy, management, marketing, cultural, economic, risk and political issues. We have to strive to cover it all, albeit imperfectly.
But this breadth can prompt the questions, who are you writing for, who is your audience and what is a "green" business?
The answer to those questions is far from simple. We know our audience: our 200,000 hits a month and the 10,000-plus executives registered for our newsletters prove we are providing a valuable service to a significant and growing audience. But boiling this readership down to a simple definition is close to impossible.
The contention that the audience consists of "green executives" working for "green companies" is accurate but overly simplistic. It covers those working for clean-tech companies, those working in sustainability functions, and arguably those working for the more progressive blue chips. But it risks excluding those countless executives working at businesses that are striving to become more sustainable, but are not yet in a position where they can comfortably refer to themselves as green.
Equally, this narrow definition risks excluding those many CEOs, financial directors, operations managers, facilities managers, marketing execs, engineers, researchers and policy wonks who do not have sustainability in their job title but regard green business issues as a hugely important part of their wider responsibilities.
This growing audience will be critical if the low-carbon economy is to continue its march into the mainstream, but it is difficult to find a unifying characteristic that defines such a broad cohort.
The BusinessGreen Charter attempts to do just that. Building on work done by green business groups such as the Green Alliance, the Corporate Leaders Group on Climate Change and the Climate Change team at the CBI, as well as the recent speech by RSA chief executive Matthew Taylor calling for a new era of "enlightened enterprise", we have attempted to set out a shortlist of values to which the green business movement adheres – values that would unite the founder of a renewable energy startup with the chief executive of some of the world's most carbon-intensive energy and mining firms.
The BusinessGreen team has moved the charter through several iterations, each time making the values it contains broader in an attempt to ensure as many businesses as possible recognise themselves in the criteria we have set out.
Essentially, the charter covers any business that recognises that "business-as-usual is unsustainable" and is willing to take sensible steps to develop new sustainable business models. It consciously echoes Taylor's definition of the "enlightened enterprise" and the various missives orchestrated by organisations such as the Corporate Leaders Group, the Aldersgate Group and WWF, where businesses have called for more ambitious emission-reduction targets and more effective environmental regulations.
It could be argued that it is too inclusive, that even the world's most carbon-intensive firms could adhere to these values if they simply acknowledge they must change at some point and highlight a few instances where they have supported environmental regulations or taken steps to cut their carbon emissions.
But I'd counter that inclusivity is precisely the point – the green business movement needs to build as broad a church as possible. The low-carbon economy should have no problem working with carbon-intensive firms that genuinely adhere to the values set out in this charter.
Sadly, there are still too many companies and individuals that would reject the hypothesis that manmade climate change and environmental degradation makes a new business settlement essential, that instinctively oppose any and all regulation, and that will never accept that short-term costs must be borne to realise long-term benefits. Green businesses cannot afford to make enemies of those polluting firms that do want to change.
The problem with charters is that they can end up being too proscriptive, arrogant even.
That is not our intention. BusinessGreen is not an NGO or a campaign group. We are not asking anyone to sign up to this charter (although if you do agree with its values let us know through the comment box below). It is simply an internal exercise intended to better define our audience that we thought should be made public in the hope it can play a small role in the on-going debate around the recent emergence of what have been variously described as green, progressive or enlightened enterprises.
It is also not set in stone. We'd love to know what you think, whether you recognise yourself or your company in the stated values, and if not what changes you would make to the charter.
Whether we have got this list of values right or not, over the past few years something fundamental changed in the way many businesses operate.
The rapid growth of the multi-trillion dollar market for green goods and services, coupled with the billions of dollars of investment flowing into clean technologies, demonstrates that an awareness of climate change risks and low-carbon opportunities has changed the way many senior executives think.
The caricature of laissez faire, short-termist, anti-environment and anti-government business leaders is becoming increasingly outdated. Plenty of these corporate dinosaurs still exist, but they are rapidly being replaced by a more sophisticated and nuanced generation of business leaders –still unashamedly entrepreneurial and pro-business, but equally aware of the long-term challenges and opportunities that environmental constraints present.
Whether you call these businesses and business leaders green, progressive or enlightened does not really matter. But it certainly helps to make the case for the low-carbon economy if you recognise that they exist and acknowledge that for all their many differences, there are some common values that unite them.
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