by Thomas Wailgum

Sustainability: Important, But Boring As Hell

Mar 23, 2010
Enterprise Applications

Companies are a little too proud of their sustainability efforts, which aren't especially interesting to most customers.

I can’t stand any more sustainability talk. It’s like gulping down two Ambien before a massive Thanksgiving Day dinner and drinking three glasses of red wine to go along with all that turkey.

Bor-ring. Zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz.

After half-listening to a Forrester Research call on SAP and Sustainability yesterday, I tweeted that “Whoever can make sustainability interesting will become a very rich person or firm.”

The opportunity is there. I know I’m not alone in this view.

For all that sustainability aims to do—reduce corporate energy consumption and carbon footprints—as a “topic of interest” I find it anything but.

Part of the problem is the self-righteous and disingenuous stench oozing from corporate marketing’s “Green” campaigns. It’s like that famous bit from comedian Chris Rock, regarding his friends who like to brag and take credit for things they’re supposed to do: “I take care of my kids!” or “I’ve never been to jail!” they say. Rock is incredulous: “You’re supposed to take care of your kids! You’re not supposed to go to jail!”

Hey, corporate leaders: You shouldn’t be poisoning the earth’s groundwater or atmosphere!

I follow enterprise software, and software vendors love nothing more than to espouse the sustainability gospel from on high: Yes, it’s good that you offer that type of software to track carbon footprints. But, geez, you don’t have to hit us all over the head about how wonderful and sustainable you are. You make software, after all—it’s not like you’re dealing with chemicals or nuclear waste!

SAP has been prancing along on its High Horse of Sustainability for a little too long and has completely turned me off to the topic. What ‘waste’ are you really sparing us of? CD-installation cardboard boxes? Or the noxious “emissions” from your coders who have gone too long without a shower?

In a recent blog post on the Harvard Business Review website, the author argues that a “green domino effect” is forcing more companies to embark on sustainability measures. Peer pressure among industry competitors, the author argues, is working. Here’s my question: Do those companies actually want to be more sustainable, or just concoct better, slicker “sustainable” marketing campaigns than their competitors?

That said, is sustainability actually resonating with customers? I’m still not sold. Right now, given the dire economic situation, these words are still king: “price” and “discount” and “clearance.”

Sure, surveys report that consumers say they care about green products and would be more likely to buy those goods. The key word is “say.” Because at the point of final decision making—the point of purchase—surveys have also shown that people are still incented too heavily by price.

Green? Eh…it’s a “nice to have.”

I’d argue that sustainability is still a nebulous concept because, first off, it’s a really vague term, and second, the average consumer just isn’t incented or interested enough in the topic.

In fact, here are five things I’d rather spend 30 minutes hearing about than sustainability:

1. The Secret Relationships of Ant Colonies

2. The Catalytic Converter: Explained!

3. History of Socks

4. Tinting the Various Shades of Grout: How Do They Do That?

5. Your weeklong summer vacation in Hot Springs, Arkansas

You get my point. Sustainability is a worthy corporate aspiration—I’m not foolish enough to discount the benevolence and goodwill toward this planet. Please, keep up the good work SAP, IBM, Wal-Mart and its thousands of suppliers!

Just don’t expect us all to be that interested in hearing about your do-gooder efforts.

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