CEO Corner

Transforming the Marketplace for Over 20 Years

Arthur-ColorBy Arthur Weissman, Ph.D, Green Seal President/CEO

I am delighted to welcome you to this inaugural Green Seal blog!  Green Seal is excited that social media allows us to reach our constituencies more effectively, including the consumer – who is responsible for 70% of the economy.

As a child (and son of a doctor), I received a desk tray with a curious quote on it:  “Medicine is the only profession that labors incessantly to destroy the reason for its own existence.”  I found this juxtaposition of diligence and self-sacrifice both intriguing and admirable.  (I wish I could say this adage is what deterred me from becoming a doctor, but I was not so clever.)

In many ways, the environmental field and all groups like Green Seal with environmental missions have a similar built-in sunset.  If we succeed, we don’t need to practice anymore.  If the economy and society truly become sustainable, we can all pursue the arts.

Needless to say, we haven’t gotten there yet.  On a global scale human society continues to cause climate change, pervasive toxic pollution, habitat and species loss, and resource depletion.  In the developed countries, consumption exceeds the capacity of our planet to provide for and sustain our lifestyles.  And we are still learning how to assess the environmental and health impacts of our everyday activities and how to design a more sustainable economy.

We have nonetheless made real progress in greening the economy in the past twenty years.  Green Seal, along with other NGOs, government agencies, and leading companies, has helped to transform entire market sectors such as building maintenance, paper, and hospitality.  We have helped define through leadership standards what environmentally preferable or sustainable means in terms of safer ingredients, more efficient product designs, and services that incorporate these and comparable procedures.  And we have established the validity of third-party certification that promotes credibly greener choices in the marketplace.

Of course the work has really just begun.  We are in no danger of closing up shop for lack of it.  We need to develop leadership standards for many more categories of products and services, or at least some way of identifying what is more sustainable in each category.  Green Seal’s standards cover 375 product and service categories, and our sister programs around the world include several hundred more.  But there are thousands of categories of goods and services in the modern marketplace.  In this respect, we welcome the efforts of allied groups like The Sustainability Consortium, which is busily developing category sustainability profiles and key performance indicators for retail buyers.

Even when we develop all these standards and measures, they must be applied throughout the supply chain to provide the desired products and services.  This is a herculean but not impossible task, as we have seen such market transformation occur in a matter of several years with the necessary market drivers.  Everything must be aligned to make this happen, though, and time remains of the essence.

For we are all participating in a culture change, and this one has a deadline.  The mode of living we have developed in the past few hundred years must give way to a tamer and more considerate one.  If we don’t adapt soon, we risk the future not only of human civilization, but also of the human species and of potentially millions of other species which co-inhabit the Earth with us.  Far better it would be to incorporate the principles of sustainability in all aspects of our economy and society, so that the environmental profession went out of existence, not all of us.