State of the Planet

News from the Columbia Climate School

Learning to Make the Case for Greener Products

Al Iannuzzi, Senior Director, Environment, Health and Sustainability, Johnson & Johnson.
Al Iannuzzi, senior director, environment, health and sustainability, Johnson & Johnson.

Written by George Sarrinikolaou

Companies are coming under increasing pressure to reduce the environmental harm of their products, according to Al Iannuzzi, senior director of environment, health and sustainability at Johnson & Johnson. He spoke to students on Feb. 5 at the Practicum in Innovative Sustainability Leadership, a new course in the M.S. in Sustainability Management program at Columbia University. For his firm, Iannuzzi said, the decisive turning point came when Walmart, the largest single buyer of Johnson & Johnson products, demanded greener products of its suppliers.

But the pressure on private firms seems to be coming from all directions: consumers and shareholders, who are sensitized to the links between consumption and the environment; the market, which is accounting for the scarcity of some raw materials; and from scientists, who are concerned about the planet’s capacity to bear a growing population and the added environmental stress that’s bound to come as people in places such as China and India increase their consumption.

For companies, then, producing so-called green products – goods that have a lower impact on the environment – is becoming an integral aspect of competitiveness. Iannuzzi, who is the author of Greener Products: The Making and Marketing of Sustainable Brands (CRC Press), cited General Electric (Ecoimagination) and Seventh Generation as two firms that are integrating environmental concerns in their products. Still, “there is no such thing as a green product,” Iannuzzi told the class, which includes students from Sustainability Management, the MPA in Environmental Science & Policy, and the Undergraduate Major in Sustainable Development.

All products, no matter how green, affect the environment, Iannuzzi said. Indeed, there are environmental impacts throughout the process of bringing a product to market; and often the impacts outlast the product’s usefulness. In the discussion that followed Iannuzzi’s talk, students considered the role of sustainability managers, who face the challenge of driving greening efforts in companies that are also trying to maximize profits. The students considered the strategies that they, themselves, might use to integrate sustainability in large firms such as Johnson & Johnson.

The discussion reflected the purpose of the new course as a whole – to teach students strategies for integrating sustainability in organizations. Each week, the course hosts a leading sustainability practitioner, working in any of a variety of areas, who discusses what it takes to make environmental concerns a strategic part of how organizations do business. Professor Steve Cohen, the executive director of the Earth Institute, teaches the course with George Sarrinikolaou, a longtime sustainability practitioner and the director of the Earth Institute’s Office of Academic and Research Programs.

Next up is Jonathan Rose, a real estate developer and the president of Jonathan Rose Companies. Rose will speak to the class about using advances in neuroscience and behavioral psychology to improve the environmental performance of buildings, on Wednesday, Feb. 12, 6:10-7 p.m., in 209 Havemeyer. Alumni and guests who wish to attend the talk may RSVP to ywilliams@ei.columbia.edu.

The M.S. in Sustainability Management, co-sponsored by the Earth Institute and Columbia’s School of Continuing Education, trains students to tackle complex and pressing environmental and managerial challenges. The program requires the successful completion of 36 credit points. Those credit points are divided among five comprehensive content areas: integrative sustainability management, economics and quantitative analysis, the physical dimensions of sustainability, the public policy environment of sustainability management, and general and financial management. Visit our website to learn more.    

Science for the Planet: In these short video explainers, discover how scientists and scholars across the Columbia Climate School are working to understand the effects of climate change and help solve the crisis.
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