Being green is no longer a political issue but a business issue.

The environment wasn’t much of a political football during the recently finished midterm election season. Most of the campaign ads I saw focused on the economy, jobs, deficit spending, health care and the questionable character of the other guy in the race.

During the 2010 Green Manufacturing Summit held recently in Milwaukee, one speaker claimed that climate change has moved past being a political issue. He went on to say that climate change isn’t even an environmental issue anymore, which is a surprising statement.

His point is that being green now is a business issue. Many companies have incorporated their sustainability initiatives into their business strategy, attorney Mark Thimke said.

“Businesses are regulating business by implementing their own greenhouse-gas reduction programs,” he said. “We’re even seeing businesses imposing standards on other businesses.”

Thimke referred to the “Walmart factor,” which encompasses the retailer’s own high-profile sustainability program as well as the pressure it puts on its suppliers to go green. By being perceived as a green market leader, Walmart might even force its competitors to go green.

Part of Walmart’s business strategy, of course, is pure marketing to improve its image among consumers. But the strategy also addresses its internal costs.

Walmart wants to make its supply chain more efficient, which will help it lower prices and keep it more competitive. Other companies taking a similar approach include Ford, Nike, Hewlett-Packard and Kohl’s.

If you’re a contractor for one of these companies, expect them to ask you to prove how green you are compared with your competitors. You also should consider whether being greener would help your image among your customers and save your company money in lower fuel, utility and water bills.

“It’s plain to see that sustainable strategies and technologies are not only here to stay, they are advantageous to businesses on several fronts,” said Mike Sipek, chief operating officer of host Bradley Corp. “It’s motivating to hear how green manufacturing processes lower utility and operating costs, reduce companies’ carbon footprints, boost employee morale and retention and reduce risks of future energy price spikes.”

Keynote speaker Tom Eggert, executive director of the Wisconsin Sustainable Business Council, noted that the U.S. Department of Energy last year allocated $36.7 billion to energy efficiency and alternative energy projects. Ironically, federal stimulus money stalled some energy-efficiency initiatives in 2009 when some companies delayed their projects while applying for these funds and waiting to find out if they qualify.

The money is starting to flow this year. And the plumbing industry will see more attention paid to water.

“About 2.6 billion people have no access to clean water, a problem not isolated to developing countries,” Eggert said. “This has pushed water issues up the environmental agenda and will become a new focus in 2010 and 2011.”    

Federal stimulus dollars will help some of your customers achieve their green objectives. In the end, though, these dollars should be what they’re intended to be - a stimulus.

As the Walmart factor becomes more prevalent, companies will take it upon themselves to become greener as part of their business strategy. They’ll see ROI in lower energy and water bills.

If they’re your customers, expect them to demand your help to reach their green goals.