Green Icebergs

Posted: October 9th, 2008 under Green Companies.
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Nice living on top, but what about the bottom?

Nice living on top, but what about the bottom?

Since the density of pure water ice is ca. 920 kg/m3, and that of sea water ca.1025 kg/m3, typically, around 90% of the volume of an iceberg is under water, and that portion’s shape can be difficult to surmise from looking at what is visible above the surface.

http://www.sciencedaily.com/articles/i/iceberg.htm

So-called “green products,” from “eco-pencils” to “hybrid SUVs,” have been proliferating in recent years, and the “Green Products” section of this site will be exploring this growth and their measurement in detail.  These products, however, usually only represent a very small portion of any one company’s total production — they are, in effect, only the tip of the iceberg.  It is the tip that remains out of water, the public face of the company that offers green solutions to “saving the world,” while most of the company’s products and processes remain submerged and out of sight, their environmental performance unseen and unknown.

If we want to know how the private sector is really affecting the planet, we must understand the overall impacts of corporations rather than just focus on their most innovative (but usually niche) products.  Many organizations, including companies themselves, recognize this basic fact, and regularly issue reports and ratings assessing corporate environmental performance. Companies issue Sustainability Reports, government agencies reward or punish companies for their levels of emissions, and non-profit organizations grade companies on their overall policies and programs.

But more often than not, these activities often have only a limited view of the iceberg’s underside, and fail to take a holistic view of its size, dimensions, and direction.  It is similar to the problem of the blind men and the elephant; each man is correct in describing the part he is touching, but all are radically wrong in describing the whole elephant.  We need to bring together these perspectives so we can accurately understand how green these icebergs, elephants, and companies really are.

So in this section, I will explore different efforts to measure the environmental performance of corporations, rather than single products.  I will look into who is doing this measuring, what they are measuring, and what they are not measuring.  Are environmental inputs, outputs and impacts being asssessed, as opposed to just policies and programs?  Are effects on air, water, and wildlife being evaluated, as opposed to only those on the most popular issue of the day, the climate?  For that matter, are all policies relevant to climate change being investigated, or only the most obvious (but perhaps not the most important)?

The state of the whole iceberg, and not just the one the penguins are frolicking on, must be known if we want to know how “green” it is, and how green it may become.  Ultimately it is more the trends of the mainstream market and not the “green products” market that drive corporate decisions and the private sector’s environmental impacts.  Since 90% of its mass is underwater, it is the currents of the ocean, and not the wind, that determine the iceberg’s direction.

Images: Iceberg is from http://www.davidiad.com/images/iceberg/iceberg_b.jpg and Elephant is from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Blind_Men_and_an_Elephant

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