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August 04, 2008

What WALL-E, Wa$ted and Wall Street have in Common

People keep telling me that women don't want to know the following and yet, every woman I talk to face-to-face wants to know more, not only for her family's sake, but for her retirement investments as well.

Wall_eHave you seen WALL-E ? (Highly entertaining) It's about an a little robot who was left to clean up the planet after a consumption-driven society. WALL-E's world is not that far off. Today on the Planet Green channel, there's a reality version of WALL-E's beginnings called "Wa$ted". The stars of the show, Annabelle Gurwitch and Holter Gramham challenge one family to clean up by demonstrating how much stuff and dollars they waste every year. It would be depressing except when you see how easy it is to bring down your carbon footprint and save money as well.Wasted

What's easy for a family, however, is terribly complex for Wall Street. A family wants to do it for their children's future and that's reason enough; Wall Street needs to have the financial incentives in place or else it isn't worth it to stockholders and then the question of HOW are they going to go about it is asked.

Apples Comparing Green Apples with Green Apples

It's easy to compare financial apples to apples and mitigate financial risk when making an investment, but currently there isn't a way to compare companies and products for their environmental impact. When Enron was caught messing with the books, it collapsed. In the same way, soon enough companies caught messing with their environment records will also be held accountable. 

Who has the rule book?

When it comes to environmental accountability for business it's like they're playing basketball, football, soccer on a baseball diamond - no one knows who's playing which game, they can't keep score and no one knows who to cheer for.

This is scary ground for Wall Street and the other countries, such as the UK, who are watching and waiting for a directional move. Banks are already shaky from the sub-prime housing and a slowing economy. The margin for error is very thin.

What they are trying to do on Wall Street is down to one game, say baseball. At that point business can play on a t-ball or major league level of excellence and everyone knows the rules and everyone know who to cheer for and why. What is also does is lets companies do what they do really well, which is complete.

LCAs are the equivalent of Wa$ted for business.

Product Life Cycle Assessments (LCA) measure and quantifies the pollution and carbon footprint of a product across an entire supply chain. It's the business equivalent of Wa$ted. Just like Annabell and Holter expose places families can reduce or buy greener, consultants work with companies to document their environmental impact.

Once an LCA is conducted, then it's findings can go into a scorecard matrix that provides the rules for improvement.

Smart_101_2There are many "rule books" or standards being used now, one of them is the SMaRT Sustainable Product Standard. In that standard, 1200 pollutants and their impact on air, soil, water and atmosphere are measured and scored. Many of these pollutants are on a "get better" list. Some like POPS Persistent Organic Pollutants are banned completely. A product cannot be certified if it isn't POPS free. (POPs are toxic substances composed of organic (carbon-based) chemical compounds and mixtures. They include industrial chemicals like PCBs and pesticides like DDT.)

While this sounds overwhelming, some day talking about the LCA of your purchase will be as common as talking about the MPG on your car. You don't know how they achieved the high MPG, you just want it and you won't know what a company did to be certified as sustainable on a Platinum level, you'll just want that as well.

It's the happy ending for Story of Stuff and the prevention of a WALL-E world.   

StuffTo put it all in perspective quickly, go watch Story of Stuff, everything that Annie Leonard outlines in that free 20 minute video goes into an LCA. It's the raw materials, the transportation, the manufacturing methods, the energy consumed, the worker and social impacts... measuring it all isn't easy, but it can and IS being done. Even if you don't believe that climate change is real, waste pollution is certainly tangible and this is where we start to reverse its impact.

Answering the little "yeah, but.." in our head.

At some point the "yeah, but..." alarm goes off. Prius is a high mileage car... "yeah, but what about that battery, what is that doing for the environment..."? an LCA answers those questions with documented facts that are audited by a third party and made available to the public.

As consumers and citizens of the planet, we need to know that when that "yeah, but..." alarm goes off that there is a plan going into place on the macro level that will work with all the multitude of changes we're making in our homes. Your efforts will not be wasted.


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beautifully stated Mary!

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