An assessment and critique of green business best practices

Amy K. Townsend (2004)

This study was undertaken to assess, critique, and advance green business. Green business refers to both the academic field and practices that are associated with improving companies' relationships with ecosystems. At a minimum, green business practices are used to reduce a company's environmental harm; at a maximum, green business practices are used toward achieving ecological sustainability and/or ecological regeneration or renewal. Greening business is important because current business practices significantly damage global ecosystems (Hart, 1995). In order to reduce the environmental harm that they cause, numerous businesses worldwide have undertaken efforts to improve their environmental performances. Yet, despite the development of green business "best practices", the improvement of some firms' environmental performances, and the growing number of companies that have adopted the goal of ecological sustainability, some have suggested that there are no ecologically sustainable companies. Rowledge, Barton, and Brady (1999) have acknowledged this concurrent progress in greening and lack of green firms, stating: "[P]athfinders are mapping the unknown territory, finding the hidden trails, and gaining the critical knowledge for creating a sustainable industrial system . Clearly, the entire path is not yet visible. Nor has any individual company or society as a whole reached the destination..." (p.15). Meanwhile, Stead and Stead (1996) have written, "Even those who are making concerted efforts to put sustainability into practice in their organizations do not seem convinced that they have found sustainability's magic bullet" (p. 236). This study seeks to familiarize its readers with the realm of green business and to explain why, despite their great contributions, most of today's green business best practices have not--and inherently cannot--result in businesses that are ecologically sustainable. First, it provides a historical overview of business greening during the 20th century. Then, it examines the reasons why companies are working to improve their environmental performances. Next, it suggests that firms interested in moving toward ecological sustainability need to green in their entirety. It also explains how companies become greener by exploring some commonly used greening tools. Finally, it suggests that in order for firms to achieve ecological sustainability, they will need to embrace business ecology.