Marc Gunther: Keeping watch on the business of green
Marc has contributed to the New York Times and the Washington Post and has appeared on NBC, ABC, PBS, CNN and NPR. He is a senior writer at GreenBiz.com and maintains a popular personal blog at MarcGunther.com. When he's not writing or spending time with his family in his hometown of Bethesda, Md., there's a good bet he can be found running — he's an accomplished long-distance runner with 19 marathons under his belt.
I first met Marc at a socially responsible investing conference years ago out West. I was impressed with the speech he gave and used our shared last-name (no known relation) as a excuse to introduce myself. Since then I've followed his work closely and was glad to be able to profile him here on MNN.
Here are seven questions answered by Marc Gunther.
Marc Gunther: They’ve been huge. We didn’t even have computers at the newspaper (now defunct) where I got started. That’s how old old I am! I was a TV critic in the 1980s and 1990s and watched the amazing rise of cable — the birth and growth of CNN, ESPN, MTV, CNBC, etc. I bought my first VCR back in the early 1980s for close to $1,000, believe it or not. But the explosion of Internet media, which I covered for Fortune in the late 1990s, dwarfed all that. Now we have arrived at a point where you can get news and entertainment, on a variety of devices, whenever you want. Instead of mass audiences, we have massive numbers of creators of content. I think it’s great.
When and why did you start covering environmental issues?
Not until about 2005. I like to say that I got my job thanks to GE and Walmart. When Jeff Immelt launched the ecomagination initiative at GE, and Walmart started down the road to sustainability, that sent a signal to much of corporate America that environmentalism could be good business.
The "why" is a bit more complicated. I wrote a story for Fortune called God and Business back in 2001 that led me to believe that companies and markets could, under the right circumstances, be forces for good. I then did a book on that topic called "Faith and Fortune." My interest in business and sustainability grew out of that. Plus, I love running and hiking and skiing and being outdoors.
Which big corporation is the most surprisingly green?
Is Walmart a surprise anymore? Probably not. So I will nominate Waste Management. Last year I wrote a Fortune story saying that Waste Managament is finally living up to its name. Instead of taking garbage to the dump, they are managing waste—trying to recycle and extract value whenever they can. It’s quite a story of innovation inside a big company.
What's the difference between green and greener?
I actually don’t know what either of those words mean. I can’t help but use “green” especially when I write headlines for my blog but I try to use more meaningful descriptors like sustainable and environmentally preferable. Particularly when I speak to business audiences, I talk about sustainability. They “get” both the environmental significance and the broader significance of that idea. Companies that aren’t sustainable will ultimately fail.
Does the world need saving?
Definitely. Desperately. We need to do something about climate change pretty quickly. John Holdren, the White House science advisor, said last year that there are only three options: Mitigate, adapt, suffer. If we don’t mitigate (meaning reduce emissions), we’ll have to adapt (move to new places, develop new crops). If we do neither, we’ll suffer. I’m interested in a fourth option, which is geoengineering. But we are not going to be able to wish this issue away.
Who is one person doing good in the world (besides yourself) who we should know about and why?
I don’t like heroes. They usually end up disappointing us. I placed great hope in Barack Obama, and he has failed to deliver “the change we need,” I’m sorry to say. I think it’s up to everyone to do their part. Having said that, I have a lot of admiration for the scientists, researchers, inventors and entrepreneurs who are working hard to come up with the clean technology products and services we need.
(Shea's note: I asked Marc to come up with and answer his own question here) What about consumption?
It’s a big problem that business is not going to solve. Nor are the environmental NGOS—too many of their rich donors have two houses and goodness knows how many SUVs. I look to the religious community to help us find a better path. Too many Americans spend money they don’t have to buy things they don’t need that won’t make them feel any better. Recently, I cleaned out of attic of my house, where I’ve lived for more than 15 years. I was amazed and a little discouraged to see the amount of time and money and storage space we devoted to “stuff.” In the end, it’s meaningless. You can’t take it with you.
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