I've been a political nerd since childhood. So much so that I went off to Washington DC as a Junior in high school to work for Sen. Strom Thurmond as a Senate Page. Over the years I ran for office once and helped on many campaigns and believe that governments role is to help solve big problems. I believed that because I saw Ted Kennedy and Strom Thurmond two people so very different politically work together to make public policy.

I always believed it was the government's job to tackle big issues and with good policy. 

However, as Conservation International founder Peter Seligmann says, "Transformation doesn't need government permission." Sometimes, the answers to society's most imposing problems can't come from the public sector. Today, one of those challenges is the environment.

Seeing Green

Environmental degradation is a complex and important issue, especially for younger consumers. While Millennials have helped shape policies combating the destruction of the natural environment, their most far-reaching impact has been in the private sector.

That's because Millennials are mindful of where their money goes: A 2014 Nielsen report found that 55 percent would pay more to buy from socially responsible companies. And with a proclivity to share their opinions online, they can hold companies accountable.

Fortunately, many companies realize that implementing environmentally friendly policies does more than appeal to Millennials -- it boosts bottom lines, too. According to ENERGY STAR, increased energy conservation and efficiency can cut expenses from 2 to 10 percent.

Seligmann has helped some of the world's largest companies implement policies that are both environmentally conscious and profitable -- including retail behemoth Walmart. While at Conservation International, his team approached Walmart leadership to discuss how the company needed to engage in sustainable practices that wouldn't deplete the ecosystems supplying its resources.

And the leaders listened. "What was fascinating," Seligmann recalls, "was they grabbed it immediately because it inspired their young workers and secured their supply chain."

Walmart's ubiquity means small changes can have a huge positive impact. In every industry, companies of all sizes are taking steps to affect positive environmental change.

Here are four doing just that.

1. Utilities

Not all industries have as much opportunity for environmental evolution as utilities. Opower -- a utilities customer engagement platform -- uses data analytics and behavioral science to influence its customers' energy usage. In one year, Opower partnered with more than 80 utilities worldwide to generate roughly two terawatt hours of electricity savings. That amount of energy could provide more than a year's worth of power to every home in St. Louis and Salt Lake City.

2. Agriculture

Millennial consumers have demanded change in the food and agriculture industry -- specifically, for more humane treatment of animals. In response, Perdue Farms -- one of the U.S.'s largest poultry producers -- changed its chicken-breeding processes. Through a partnership with the Humane Society of the United States, it's reduced the use of antibiotics, ensured that birds are exposed to more natural light, and modified its slaughtering methods. Jim Perdue, chairman of Perdue Farms, expressed confidence that the cost of the changes will be offset by increased sales.

3. Paper Products

We're in the digital age, but paper is still part of daily life. As one of the world's largest wood-pulp manufacturers, Fibria Celulose has worked to fight deforestation in Brazil by exclusively growing eucalyptus, which grows faster than other wood sources. Moreover, the company has provided nearly 900,000 hours of sustainable harvesting training to local workers at its Aracruz facility.

4. Fashion

The textile fashion industry's shady business practices are well documented, and Crystal Group -- which manufactures brands like Levi's and H&M and operates 20 factories worldwide -- is working to fight that negative perception. It's helped pioneer a laser processing method that drastically reduces freshwater and chemical use in manufacturing. Over the past year, the company cut water usage by about 30 percent per garment.

A push toward sustainable business practices within each of these industries has been rewarded in many ways, not the least of which is a huge brand image boost -- especially among Millennials. As more industries follow suit, the private sector will be poised to bring about immense positive change.

Published on: Nov 13, 2017
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