SRQ Magazine: Green Innovators (7/1/10)

June 3, 2013 | By

This article was originally published in SRQ Magazine (July 2010).

Kirk-Pinkerton, P.A. Casey Colburn, Attorney/Shareholder, LEED AP; William Robertson, Civil Trial Attorney/Shareholder Casey Colburn championed sustainable thinking decades before green practices entered the main stream. As a law student at the University of Pittsburgh, he studied environmental issues and regularly argued with his law school professors about the importance of sustainability in the business world. As a land use and environmental attorney and shareholder at Kirk-Pinkerton, P.A., Colburn advocates the importance of the triple bottom line: People, Planet and Profit. Sustainability pays off for employees as well as the environment and makes smart economic sense

SRQ July 2010

“For example, if a company has good daylighting and uses no-VOCs or urea formaldehyde in its office space build-out, studies show that the firm will tend to have a healthier workforce that will miss less work and be more productive. If the company installs more efficient lighting products or equipment, they’ll spend less money on electricity to produce their goods or services,” Colburn says.

In either circumstance, by using green products that perform, the second group can do its job better by improving its profit margins. When it comes to commercial real estate, Colburn notes that LEED® certified buildings command a more than 10 percent rent premium and are more occupied than uncertified structures. “In some cases, the rent premiums can make up for the increased up-front cost of building-out certified space,” he says. “In other cases, the landlord will make up the higher construction costs over the long haul, by reduced operating and maintenance costs.”

Describe the green trend as it pertains to your business.
Because I am in the service business, I need to add value to my clients’ business and experience. Right now, my law partner, civil trial attorney William Robertson, and I are helping clients prepare for and respond to unprecedented business concerns arising from the gulf oil spill. When advising green businesses, I focus on improving the company’s triple bottom line: People, Planet and Profit. Traditionally, only the last “P” mattered to shareholders. I distinctly recall spirited discussions with my law school professors about why the first two “P’s” should count for something when it comes to corporations. Of course, law professors don’t “lose” debates with students, but I feel a certain sense of vindication now that many large corporations appear to have embraced sustainability.

Now, simply being labeled “green” is not being sustainable. An unsustainable business is not difficult to identify. It is one that is or becomes overly burdensome to either society (which will reject it like an exploding Ford Pinto), the planet (which will cause people to reject it like CFC refrigerants), or one that is simply unprofitable (which will cause shareholders to revolt or unpaid lenders to foreclose). On the other hand, a sustainable business’s products and operations improve the lives of those with whom it interacts, without destroying the environment in which they live in and enjoy, and it returns a profit for its shareholders.

Sustainability recognizes that business interests and the interests of society intersect in an environment that is larger than the point of sale. Today, the totality of the consumer’s experience constitutes the marketplace. The events surrounding the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico form an ominous backdrop, a reminder to our marketplace of the risk of its dependence upon energy derived from fossil fuels. Sometimes green marketplaces flop because they covet perfection, which can be the enemy of the greener good. Capital investment flows to a path of least resistance and risk. Green marketplaces that embrace and encourage the broadest range of green investment, big or small, will achieve sustainability goals faster than those which hold out for something perfect.

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