"Green" Is More Than a Buzzword at Opportunity Green

I've been working in the "green" movement for many years and I'm just as jaded about the term as many of you likely are. I have an inherent distrust for the sustainability efforts touted by corporations as a means to appeal to bleeding heart consumers to sell more crap, thereby creating more waste, pollution and profit. But I was pleasantly surprised by what I found at the Opportunity Green conference this week in Los Angeles. It was clear to me that for many large corporations, "green" has finally become much more than a marketing buzzword. The story being told by Office Depot, Coca-Cola and BMW (among others) is that sustainability is becoming integrated into every aspect of business. Sure, these companies recognize the marketing upside of their sustainability programs. But they also recognize the financial and practical impacts of sustainability on their business. These companies have been around for a long time and they are thinking long term. Being green is no longer optional. This mindset is a big shift from just a few years ago. These are big companies. The potential for their actions to create impact is immense.

I sat down for a few minutes with Gopal Krishnan, Senior Director, Global Marketing Innovation and New Categories for Coca-Cola. He told me all about Coke's efforts to improve sustainability where they can make the most impact, namely: energy, water and packaging. For energy, Coke has the world's largest fleet of hybrid trucks. For water, Coke has set a goal to replace 100% of water it uses in every community through rainwater collection, conservation and refine and reuse technology. Speaking of technology, Coke's in-house innovation lab has developed a new solution to address the packaging part of the equation: PlantBottle. PlantBottle is currently made from 30% plant-based materials and the company is working to increase that to 100%. In addition, Coke wants to recollect 100% of its packaging for recycling by 2020. These are impressive goals.

When a company the size of Coca-Cola sets real goals for sustainability, the impacts are undeniable. PlantBottle has been introduced in just 9 global markets and already its impact is estimated as being equal to removing 5,600 cars from the road, eliminating 30,000+ metric tons of carbon dioxide this year alone - the equivalent of over 70,000 barrels of oil. (Those figures came from Coke.)

PlantBottle promises to have a huge positive impact on Coke's footprint. And, Krishnan told me, Coke is reaching out to other companies to use the bottle as well. PlantBottle is another business opportunity for Coke. And that's just the kind of green business Opportunity Green is all about encouraging. Instead of just creating a green marketing programs, companies are finding opportunities to improve their business and become more profitable through becoming more sustainable.

Coca Cola was just one example of the many companies sharing their stories at Opportunity Green. Office Depot talked about their efforts to increase sales of recycled paper through transparent labeling systems. Patagonia and New Belgium talked about why they signed up with the 1% for the Planet campaign to encourage other companies to make a firm commitment to donate 1% of profits to environmental organizations. We also heard from 25 startups just entering the fray with their ideas for new sustainable businesses in the OG25 Competition.

I was pleasantly surprised by Opportunity Green and enthused by what I learned there. Plus, it was just a fun event to attend. The organizers created a well-paced event, with three discussion tracks to choose from and plenty of time to meet and chat with vendors, sponsors and other attendees. Most impressive was the venue. Everywhere you looked, there was a friendly place to sit or even lie down and relax for a meeting or to take a break from the conference. Opportunity Green partnered with Fifty by US to create beautiful meeting spaces by transforming widely discarded objects including cardboard, fabric remnants and phone books into environments that inspire people.