Nik Blosser: The Evolution of Sustainable Business

When Nik Blosser started Celilo Group Media in 1999, he could count—on one hand—the number of consulting firms with the same focus on promoting and developing sustainable businesses. Helping companies move up on the ecological spectrum has become a lot more popular since then (as have Celilo Group Media’s beloved Chinook Book and EcoMetro.com), but the core principles Blosser started out with are still relevant.

Blosser is quick to point out that while greening your business may be a trend, it is certainly not a fad. He cites the fact that major players—such as Honda, Toyota, Nike and Patagonia—are driving this point home by reformulating their business model around sustainability as a core principle rather than merely selling a few “green” products to meet consumer demand.

With that kind of leadership blazing the trail, we can all hope the masses will follow. Read on to hear Blosser’s thoughts on how the market has shifted, where we’re headed and why green should definitely—pardon the cliché—be the new black in your entrepreneurial and political “wardrobes.”

SE: What, in your mind, defines a business as sustainable? How do they obtain this credential?

NB: There is not one universally accepted definition of what makes a sustainable business. For me, it’s a business where superior environmental attributes of their products and/or processes are a core part of their business model. The “core part of the business model” is the key. Lots of businesses recycle or sell a “green” product here or there. But to be a sustainable business, this has to be fundamental to your business. Many businesses today are on a path to sustainability, but very few are what I would call “sustainable.”

SE: So, why did you choose to focus on marketing/supporting such businesses?

NB: Well, I liked the combination of being entrepreneurial and saving the earth at the same time.

SE: How has the market changed in the past 5-10 years for businesses that are sustainable or moving towards it? Has that given them an edge in their marketing/branding?

NB: The major benefits of being green or sustainable have evolved. A year or two ago, the major benefit was probably its impact on attracting top talent to your company. More and more, specific green products such as organic food, green building products and renewable energy are big business with big business opportunities.

SE: Do you see a sustainable focus as crucial to brand survival in the future?

NB: In a marketing context of the word “brand” I would say almost certainly. However, the problem is that sustainability can be faked. Chevron, for example, is doing a pretty good job of it.

SE: Who are some leaders amongst major corporations on the sustainable front? What are they doing?

NB: I think you have to say Toyota and Honda in terms of their commitment — before the market clearly demonstrated widespread demand — to hybrid-electric vehicles. That faith in the “trend” of sustainability, before the market clearly demands it, is what separates the true leaders. Nike and the work they’ve done throughout their organization on sustainability is another real leader. Timberland, Patagonia are others.

SE: Will there be a point where sustainable is the norm? Or will it always be a niche segment for conscious consumers with the means to spend a little extra upfront to avoid environmental costs?

NB: I hope so. If not, our kids and grandkids will live in an increasingly toxic and unfriendly planet. But it will not get there only on consumer demand. There will have to be significant government regulation in key areas — toxics and energy production being two of them. Consumer demand will get us part of the way there, but sustainable will not become the norm without stronger laws, simply put.

SE: Can we, as a population, afford to have sustainable businesses remain a niche segment of the economy?

NB: Well, we can “afford” it, at least in the short-term. Maybe even for a couple hundred years. The problem is that long-term, we leave a very different, and I think much diminished, planet to future generations.

SE: What can consumers/business owners do to enhance the role of sustainable businesses in the economy + force others to follow suit?

NB: Honestly, at this point I think the most important thing business owners can do is get involved politically with their business trade organizations, and for business owners and consumers to be more involved with groups like the Oregon League of Conservation Voters who are working politically to get laws passed that make our state and country more sustainable. Second would be for consumers to be much more vocal with businesses that are clearly less sustainable. When’s the last time you saw a boycott or protest at a local Exxon gas station? Yet this company is doing as much as any company to slow effective climate protection policies at all levels, including here in Oregon.

For more information on Nik Blosser and Celilo Group Media, visit their website: http://www.celilo.net

Nik Blosser will be presenting at the GoGreen 09’ Conference, October 7th, 2009 in Portland, OR. For more information on the GoGreen ’09 Conference visit: http://www.gogreenpdx.com

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