I was going to try to say something smart about this great Joel Makower post on the environmental footprint of the service sector, but it’s obvious now I’m never going to have time, and hell, it’s Friday, so I’m just going to poach a chunk and tell you to go read the rest:
Why bother with such "soft" companies, compared to oil, gas, chemical, forestry, heavy industry, and other seemingly more polluting companies? For starters, the sector comprises fully 80% of U.S. gross domestic product, according to a recent Reuters account. Beyond that, the environmental impacts of the service sector deserve attention for three key reasons:
- The sector’s environmental problems are poorly understood and woefully under recognized. For example, we have virtually no understanding of the complex set of energy and environmental trade-offs directly tied to distribution and transportation systems. The actions of the real estate sector, which accounts for 12% of GDP, can affect land use, biodiversity, air emissions, and stormwater runoff. There are similarly significant impacts from the health care, hospitality, and retail sectors, and from academe.
- The sector has tremendous upstream leverage. Consider McDonald’s. It feeds some 47 million people daily and requires more than 2 million pounds of potatoes every 24 hours. It can create an environmental market where none exists (for non-GMO potatoes, for example), or pass customer signals concerning environmental preferences back to manufacturers.
- The sector has powerful downstream links to consumers. Daily interactions with large numbers of customers create unparalleled opportunities to assess attitudes and educate customers about the environmental impacts of their behavior. The communications clout of service sector firms can be substantial. For example, some 25 million customers visit one of Starbucks’ 7,300 retail outlets every week. Its potential to communicate rivals that of many media organizations.