As I move (slowly, I'm still on vacation!) into 2008, here's a review of a couple of story lines I've followed, and preview of coming attractions.
My personal 2007 quest: Use fewer plastic bags!
As the year progressed, San Francisco prohibited large markets from providing free plastic grocery bags. Ikea started charging customers for disposable plastic bags. Reusable bags had a moment in the fashion spotlight, as Whole Foods sold a designer bag.
Late in 2007, the New York City Council took its first steps. (Following other cities around the world. Ireland, for one, taxes plastic bags.)
Some cry that plastic bag bans are bad for business. In NYC, we remember similar claims about the restaurant smoking ban. And yet restaurant businesses still thrive, years after we adopted no-smoking regulations. (And smoking bans continue to roll out worldwide, even in France, who knew?)
I've cut my bag use tremendously -- anyone can remember to bring a reusable sometimes. Consumers will accept efforts to cut their use. If you're a retailer, selling reusables offers a revenue opportunity; when your customers use them, you save money.
A product I'm watching: light bulbs.
In 2007, greener lightbulbs became part of the general consumer consciousness. Early in the year, Wal-Mart committed to selling 100 million energy-saving compact fluorescent light bulbs. But CFLs have a dark side: they contain mercury and must be treated as hazardous waste.
Last fall, I posted on light emitting diode (LED) technology; LED bulbs don't contain mercury, last longer and use less energy.
Quite expensive, LEDs have mainly been useful in specialized situations. Consumer offerings have been limited.
But developers are evolving the technology to offer bulbs for home and business use. In the next 18-24 months, LED bulbs will become increasingly cost competitive with CFLs.
One way or another, standard incandescent bulbs will go the way of the gaslight.
In 2008, I'll continue to follow this technology, which the business press is now covering more actively. I'll post soon on how (and when) LEDs will help small businesses to save energy and money.
A trend I'm advocating: It's not enough to be "green"; socially responsible businesses must be transparent.
What are businesses really doing to achieve their goals? What are the results? We need to ask, and to vote with our wallets on greenwashing.
Businesses are established and run by people, and I believe that we can create businesses as vehicles to increase the peace and common good. Yet sometimes, we stray from the path.
I've posted on this stuff before. And as 2007 progressed, I saw the mainstream press raise more questions on this topic.
In 2008, I'll actively seek comments from firms that have drawn my attention.
Some seem to be on the right track. Others? Well, let's hope I'm over-caffeinated and cranky, and that what I'm smelling isn't hype. (Please email or comment with your thoughts! I'd love to profile companies that you see walking their talk.)
Finally, in 2008, I'll look at water.
The top sustainable business story in coming years will be conservation, politics, and economics of how water is bought, sold, and used.
As individuals and participants in the small business ecosystem, we can move this story towards a good ending. Just by becoming a bit more conscious.
(photo from Alice W's Faded Rose Cottage; thanks, Alice!)