Real Leaders recently attended the annual GreenBiz ’18 event in Phoenix, Arizona – for the group’s yearly temperature-taking of trends, challenges and solutions around sustainable business.

It’s been 25 years since the founders of this Oakland, CA-based media group, Joel Makower and Pete May, began feeding us intelligent, focused content on the convergence of business, technology and sustainability. Since 1991, the pair have chronicled thought leadership and shared insights on how environmental responsibility can combine with profitable business practices. In so doing, they’ve amassed a substantial following of sustainability professionals.

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The 25-strong team focuses on energy, cities and buildings, transportation, supply chains and the circular economy and has contributed to driving the sustainability agenda deep into the business practice of the world’s largest corporations.
The GreenBiz Group has shown us how to “operationalize sustainability” through its website, events, peer-to-peer network and research arm and the annual flagship event in February (they have others) provided the perfect backdrop to engage more than 1,100 loyal followers throughout a four-day journey.

The event kicked-off with a high-level review of their annual research survey “The State of Green Business”, compiled in conjunction with Trucost, the sustainability research arm of S&P Global. The report, in short, assesses how, and by how much, companies are integrating sustainability into their business strategies and operations. The report served as a springboard for healthy debate in the plenary discussions.

Some of the highlights included Bill McDonough, Chief Executive of McDonough Innovation delivering a thought-provoking speech on “The Creation of The Perception of Scarcity Where Nothing Exists,” where he presented findings on the size of the current financial markets related to global GDP and the potential of the circular economy.

In a “fireside chat” with Makower, Erin Roberts, the Head of Capital Strategies at JP Morgan Chase & Co, walked us through the opportunities for climate-smart investments in emerging markets to 2030. She explained how the role of institutional investors, banks and governments may need to change to capitalize on these opportunities.

Lise Kingo, CEO & Executive Director of the UN Global Compact, walked us through The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) – precisely what they believe is needed to mobilize action and deliver on a global scale.

The importance of fiduciary responsibility in changing corporate attitudes towards environmental and social issues formed part of a panel discussion entitled, “The Role of Company Boards in Driving Sustainability.” Rose McKinney-James, Managing Principal of McKinney-James & Associates, Darla Stuckey, Executive Director of the Society for Corporate Governance and Katherine Smith, Executive Director of Boston College for Corporate Citizenship, all eloquently laid out how executive leadership and board oversight could contribute to this vital issue.

These four sessions, in particular, resonated for me, mainly because they each outlined the need for the finance sector – in the broadest sense – to step-up its game and adopt a leadership stance in driving sustainable development.
This “call to action” continued in many of the event’s break-out sessions. There were presentations, discussions and workshops on “ESG Reporting” (Environmental, social and corporate governance) – a component of the sustainable development mix that I believe to be critical.

All the topics, issues and sessions that GreenBiz Group amplify are important. They are all interlinked and interdependent. Sustainable development will only be attained via a systemic approach yet without “finance” and the ability to converge financial and non-financial reporting to reflect materiality better, we will struggle to see the change we need to see. CEOs, CFOs and their respective sustainability teams all need to speak (and report) in the same language.
This sentiment is somewhat reflected in a recent report by KPMG, one of the Big4 accounting and advisory firms, in which they state that many corporates are lagging behind in aligning their internal processes to the SDGs.

But, where there are laggards, there are leaders too. Some of the corporations that attended and demonstrated their leadership in this space were BASF, Novozymes, Johnson & Johnson, Steelcase, Iron Mountain, Intel, NRG Energy, VF Corporation, Unilever, Ford Motor Co., General Motors, Campbell Soup Company, Microsoft and The Dow Chemical Company.

These organizations have, to varying degrees, mapped their day-to-day processes against the SDGs to help them better understand the material aspects of their business processes, which ones need attention, and which practices they should change, shift or abandon.

For example, BASF, led by Charlene Wall-Warren, Director of Sustainability, has over the past 18 months mapped eight aspects of materiality across all 17 SDGs to help them better understand where an impact can be made. Claus Stig Pedersen, Head of Corporate Sustainability at Novozymes, has developed tools to assess solutions and connect them to the SDGs. By doing so, they have created 15 “impact categories” in their business.

Mapping programs such as these aim to deliver short-term results and long-term profitability – socially, environmentally and financially. They contribute towards the Sustainable Development Goals too.

At Real Leaders, we are advocates for the Global Goals and strive to highlight inspiring examples of leaders who are doing well by doing good while delivering shared value to all stakeholders.

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