Courtesy of Courtney Colwell/David Foster,

The U.S. green movement has been a rollercoaster of support, progress, opposition and steps backward. So what’s really going on right now? Studies have shown the growth of green initiatives, from alternative energy to sustainable building, has been almost stagnant since last year. The unstable economy has pressured many American businesses to tighten their purses and take a conservative, skeptical approach to implementing green initiatives in their operations. While working toward energy conservation means a more sustainable business and can lower long-term costs, financial payoff won’t necessarily come along for years, sometimes decades.

But slow growth doesn’t necessarily mean we’re abandoning the green front. In many cases, it means the early surge of green projects from the turn of the decade have been approaching completion between 2011-2012. The U.S. Green Building Council reported that the existing buildings certified under the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) program exceeded the number of new construction projects this year for the first time. In sheer footage, the USGBC recorded over 1.8 billion square feet of LEED-certified space. This means the U.S. is now seeing a record number of real, functioning buildings designed for reduced carbon emissions and sustainability.

Furthermore, government subsidies for sustainability and alternative energy are giving CFOs something to think about when evaluating their business’s short-term financial goals. According to the Green Biz Group, 42% of businesses reported increased investments in sustainability and environmental projects as a result of the weakened economy.

This marks an auspicious increase in innovative research and implementation that sets the stage for widespread green initiatives in the business sector for years to come.

An exciting development in government-funded sustainability research is the “Advanced Management and Protection of Energy-storage Devices,” or AMPED, funded by the Department of Energy and initiated by the energy secretary Steven Chu. The project seeks to solve the crucial problem of providing safe, sustainable storage for alternative energy and offers a $30 million incentive to the nation’s brightest scientists. The department predicts that such an innovation will pave the way for the next generations of transportation, building and electrical infrastructure.

Meanwhile, alternative energy sources are continuing to benefit the United States with continued funding and innovation. Wind turbines power more than 20-30 percent of Iowa and South Dakota homes and businesses, and up to 50 percent of those in Colorado. The Green Biz Group reported that the number of patents in wind energy between 2010 and 2011 increased from 245 to 455.

Overall, we’ve seen an increase of just about 500 clean energy patents in the same span of time, from 1,882 to 2,331. According to Bloomberg New Energy Finance, funding for clean energy plants reached $187 billion, compared to $157 billion in fossil fuels and natural gas. This marks an auspicious increase in innovative research and implementation that will set the stage for widespread green initiatives in the business sector for years to come.

Though government environmental regulations are cumbersome and face stiff resistance from conservative parties, grassroots efforts to support the green movement are popping up all over the country to hold businesses accountable for preserving our fragile environment. On April 30 in Philadelphia, an environmental activist group called the Earth Quaker Action Team is protesting PNC Bank’s financial backing of mountaintop removal coal mining with their Green Walk for Jobs and Justice. Starting in Philadelphia, participants will walk 200 miles across the state to arrive at PNC headquarters in Pittsburgh.

For those less politically or industrially motivated, look to activists in Washington D.C. who have implemented “guerilla gardening” as their preferred method of saving the environment. Armed with small “seed bombs” consisting of mud, clay, wildflower seeds, compost, and water, these activists are seeking to fill the U.S. capitol’s empty lots, nooks, crannies and everything in between with healthy plant life.

While many businesses are faced with hefty turnover costs to revamp systems for eco-friendly operations, there are some verticals inherently conducive to a low carbon footprint, making them poised to lead the green charge. Self-storage facility buildings, for example, use far fewer resources than it takes to power most other businesses occupying as much space. Massachusetts facility Lakeville Self-Storage uses a geothermal air conditioning system, whereby groundwater is pumped and heated or cooled to supply climate-controlled air. Supported by high-density insulation, this provides clean, functional energy at low operational cost.

This spring, we’re seeing plenty of positive movement towards cultivating appreciation for the Earth. Whether you’re a business or individual, there’s always something to be done to help the cause. Let us know what steps you’ve taken!