business news in context, analysis with attitude

by Michael Sansolo

Can companies do well by doing good? That is, can they prosper by working for the benefit of the environment and the world? The answer, increasingly, seems to be yes.

Consider the following quote from an article in the New York Times Monday, in a story about retailers using solar energy panels on the roofs of stores.

“It’s going to be the Wal-Marts of the world that will buy these things over acres and make a difference,” said Roger G. Little, chairman and chief executive of the Spire Corporation, a Boston company that provides solar equipment.

Analysts are not sure how much power the rooftop projects could ultimately produce, but they say it could be enough to help shave total electricity demand. In many communities, stores are among the biggest energy users. Depending on location and weather, the solar panels generate 10 to 40 percent of the power a store needs.

If Wal-Mart eventually covered the roofs of all its Sam’s Club and Wal-Mart locations with solar panels, figures from the company show that the resulting solar acreage would roughly equal the size of Manhattan, an island of 23 square miles.

That story, which “Content Guy” Kevin Coupe highlighted in Monday’s MNB, should be must reading for everyone in the industry because it details a number of important truths about energy, lack of congressional action and activities by leading retailers.

But mostly it makes clear the point of how doing well and doing good are linked together. As explained in the story, retailers installing solar panels are also looking for a major impact on the bottom line by cutting energy costs, an issue certain to grow larger in years to come.

No doubt there are many readers out there who scoff at the concerns raised about the environment, global warming, energy prices and supply, water shortages…etc. There might be some of you with similar feelings about food safety, health and wellness and more. And, of course, you are entitled to your opinion though I’d disagree with you across the board.

But let’s put aside politics and emotion and focus on business. To my thinking it’s hard to ignore this simple truth: what matters to shoppers must matter to you. Increasingly, shoppers say they are prepared to evaluate a wide range of issues when making a purchase. Food safety and health and wellness are on the list. Energy and environmental impact are getting on that list. Now that may not make a difference today or even in five years, but the day is coming.

I’d also argue that you look simply at the business side of this. How will you compete with those who learn how to talk about and market to these concerns? How will you answer questions from shoppers wondering why the store down the street is talking about packaging or energy reduction, while you aren’t?

And, let’s be even more direct. How will you compete if other retailers are shaving costs repeatedly by cutting waste, cutting energy use and more? Pennies quickly add up to dollars and pretty soon, we’re talking about real money.

Take a second while watching the Olympics tonight and consider the razor thin margin of victory and defeat. Consider the care the swimmers put into decided which suit to wear. Or contemplate a study reported in the Washington Post sports section Monday on the microscopic, but important advantage sprinters get by lining up with their left leg in front of their right.

Winners look for every edge, no matter how small.

Then look at your roof, your energy policy, your waste management plans and ask yourself, am I doing all I can?

The clock is ticking.

Michael Sansolo can be reached via email at .

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