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Making Money by Going Green

Changes in the business culture show increased awareness of the profitability of sustainability. Ed Mayberry reports.


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At a recent Greater Houston Partnership symposium on sustainability, Bill Shireman of The Future 500 said sustainability and profitability are interlinked.

“Absolutely.  You have to have profit or financial incentive aligned with what is good for society.  If it’s not profitable in the end, then the, then the activity can’t be sustained.”

Shireman speaks about the business/environmental conundrum at events like the Partnership’s Green Building Symposium.

“Capitalism is a system of feedback and adaptation that takes what people need and finds a way to provide them with that need at an ever-lower cost.  That what an eco-system does.  An eco-system is about, you know, in nature, evolving species and plants and animals that have higher and higher capabilities and yet use less and less resources.  Both systems are founded on the same basic principles of feedback and adaptation.  So eco-capitalism is just applying the principles of nature to business, and realizing, you know, the basis of long-term profit.”

Shireman notes that Houston seems far ahead of other metro areas in green building awareness–something about which Partnership President and CEO Jeff Moseley is proud.

“Houston, Texas, has the second largest number of green buildings in the nation.  We’re second behind Los Angeles.  So if you really take a per-capita, we lead the nation in taking this technology hat saves energy.  We produce energy.  It’s natural that we lead the way in showing how to conserve and how to save and find those energy savings.”

Moseley says the future of new models of energy will be carried forward by young people.  Lanier Middle School 11-year-old Austin Fendley was honored for convincing the Houston Independent School District into changing from styrofoam trays to biodegradable trays in the lunchroom.

“Well, six-month biodegradable trays, which are lot better than styrofoam, because styrofoam took around a thousand years, or 500.”

Ed: “How’d you get the board to make that decision?”

“Tried my best to persuade them with a speech that I wrote with my grandmother.”

Ed: “Were they receptive?”

“The pretty much just said ‘yeah, sure,’ because they voted on it later in the summer.”

Ed: “Are you interested in this sort of thing—in ecology and green issues?  I mean, do you want to make this a career, maybe?”

“Possibly.  I like the environment.  I want to keep it clean.”

Shireman says the new politics makes eco-capitalism easier in some ways and harder in others, because of a very adversarial political system.  But he says Houston is ahead of the crowd, and strangely enough, it’s the energy companies helping to lead the way.

“In fact, it’s been some of the major oil companies—Shell and BP and ExxonMobil—who have driven the demand for LEED buildings in Houston and have really formed the foundation for the sustainability community here.  It’s all about behaving in a way where you’re adapting to the signals that we’re getting from the marketplace and from the environment that say we need to make a change.”

Shireman says there’s a global transformation from a petroleum-driven economy to one that still relies on petroleum, but also information, high technology and innovation to drive down the amount of needed resources.  Ed Mayberry, KUHF Houston Public Radio News.

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