Profitable businesses do not have to be harmful to the environment, according to Gary Hirschberg.
Hirschberg, the “CE-yO” of Stonyfield Farm, came to Yale on Wednesday to talk about organic farming and other topics addressed in his new book, “Stirring it Up: How to Make Money and Save the World.” Sponsored by the Yale Center for Environmental Law & Policy and the Gordon Grand Fellowship, his presentation suggested ways that businesses can be both profitable and green.
Wednesday was the 25th birthday of Stonyfield Farm, the third-largest yogurt company in the United States and the leading producer of organic yogurt.
A native of New Hampshire, Hirschberg said he remembers watching the “pretty colors” from his grandfather’s shoe factory flowing out into the river as a child. Only later, when the river caught fire, did he realize the pollution’s harmful effects, he said.
The consumer, Hirscshberg said, is the one who votes, by choosing products every day. Even though it is more profitable for a company to go green, the consumer ultimately decides which products a company produces, he said.
“When you buy a product, you are voting for it,” he said.
Hirschberg began his career at the organic New Alchemy Institute, which featured a small greenhouse that could produce enough organic vegetables to feed 10 families three meals a day for one year. But he became truly inspired, he said, when he visited the Land Pavilion at Walt Disney World’s Epcot Center in Florida. The pavilion, sponsored by Kraft Foods, included a visualization of farming’s future. Hirschberg decided he wanted to start a business like Kraft — but organic, he said.
Companies can be sustainable in a variety of ways, Hirschberg said. First and foremost, they must reduce their carbon footprints. In order to reduce the amount of greenhouse gas released during milk production, Stoneyfield eliminates grain feed in favor of grass feed and manages manure with gas-changing bacteria, he said. In order to help other companies become more environmentally friendly, Hirschberg designed climatecounts.com, a Web site that rates companies on their climate-change efforts.
But no company can be completely sustainable, Hirschberg said, adding that companies should set realistic goals.
“We shouldn’t make perfect the enemy of the good,” he said.
Audience members interviewed — including students, professors and even the CEO of an environmentally friendly lubricant company — said Hirschberg gave them a new perspective on the sustainable economy.
Bobby Gibbs ’10 said he was surprised by the notion that non-luxury products can also be sustainable.
“I had an impression that organic business is a necessary luxury, but now I know it doesn’t have to be,” he said.
Robert Kruse ’09 said sustainability makes good business sense.
“Efficiency can be profitable, and businesses should seek this out,” he said.