“Going green lowers costs and provides capital to reinvest in people and innovation”

May 19 2010

Andrew Winston

Andrew Winston

Andrew Winston is a great connaisseur of what exactly “going green” means. He is the founder of Winston Eco-Strategies and the author of two strategic “green” books: Green Recovery, a strategic plan for using environmental thinking to survive hard economic times, and Green to Gold, the best-selling guide to what works - and what doesn’t - when companies go green. His work consists of helping companies both large and small use environmental strategy to grow, create enduring value, and build stronger relationships with employees, customers, and other stakeholders. He has kindly answered the questions of HitBarcelona about innovation and the challenges of the cleantech sector.

- We use to think sexy innovation is the one related to new products (cf. iPad!). Is innovation in processes undervalued?

Yes, I think we often focus only on the new product/revenue-generating part of ‘innovation’, when in fact there is innovation going on in all parts of the business and in different areas of value creation. For example, companies like 3M and DuPont have cut literally billions out of their cost structures through eco-efficiency over many years. Finding new ways every year to use less energy, water, and material is innovative. Redesigning a product or process to eliminate a toxic element, and thus reducing overall risk to the business, is innovative.

- You talk about Green Recovery when companies just struggle to survive, by any means. What are the advantages of going green?

Going green creates value in a number of ways. It lowers cost structure, saving money that helps companies survive tough times, but also provides capital to reinvest in people and innovation. Seeing your business through an environmental lens is also a tremendous driver of innovation — it allows you to see the business, product, and market in a new light. And doing right by planet, people, and profits is a wonderful way to build intangible, or brand, value — in the form of customer loyalty and greater ability to attract and retain the best people.

- What are the hurdles and challenges of the Cleantech sector?

Cleantech is a very broad term and encompasses every form of new energy, efficiency-focused companies, new material technologies, and much more. There’s no one hurdle, but of course like all new sectors, there are challenges in getting the capital to get to scale. And it’s often difficult to get the buy-in needed from skeptical customers — there’s a lot of inertia in our system.

- Which is the first goal to be achieved by a company that wants to get green values?

The first step is to understand your environmental and social impacts, up and down the value chain. I suggest starting with a qualitative analysis of how the business or industry touches on, and is impacted by, big environmental challenges like climate change and water constraints. Think about what these pressures mean to your suppliers and your customers. Then embark as well on a more quantitative approach to get a baseline on carbon and other metrics, up and down the value chain. You can’t manage what you don’t measure. After that, you’ll know better where your risks and opportunities lie. It’s more than worth the upfront investment in getting smarter about your footprint.