GreenBiz19: Sustainability at a Tipping Point

Mar 8, 2019 4:00 PM ET

GreenBiz19: Sustainability At A Tipping Point

Operating at the intersection of business, technology, and sustainability, The GreenBiz Group is a key advocate for the integration and application of sustainability into the corporate ecosystem. Whether it is convening C-Suite executives and leading NGOs on developing robust circular economy initiatives or researching new trends to develop more sustainable supply chains, GreenBiz has uniquely positioned itself at the epicenter of the corporate green movement. In that context, every year GreenBiz convenes the best, brightest, and most influential leaders in sustainable business practices to discuss the corporate sustainability space and the recent GreenBiz19, from February 25-28 in Phoenix, Arizona, lived up to its reputation.

“Collectively our business models are driving us off a cliff.” The theme that dominated GreenBiz19 was the infusion of corporate sustainability strategy into the business units directly and tangibly impacting a company’s bottom line from an investor’s perspective. Specifically, the shift away from green-washing a company’s footprint is now quickly transitioning to companies competing to make sustainability profitable. This a welcome trend that signals a tipping point ahead for rapid acceleration to a circular economy. Below are three notable trends illustrated at GreenBiz19 to follow moving forward.

1. ESG is at the top of the C-Suite’s Agenda

“Accountant’s will save the world.” During the WBSCD’s pre-opening session, this simple announcement turned everyone’s head. What at first sounded completely misguided quickly began to make sense. Essentially, corporate sustainability integration is at a tipping point due to two factors. Consumer activism is driving demand for more sustainable solutions from the private sector and the need to embed environmental, social, and governance criteria (ESG) into corporate DNA to compete in a race to the top of mount sustainability is escalating. Highlighting this, companies including OlamPhilips, and Danone are becoming first movers in the ESG space, being recognized for establishing ESG facilities to tangibly link sustainability performance to investor demand. To highlight this, consider the following:

  • At the moment, $1 out of every $4 invested ($12 trillion annually) in the United States is linked to ESG and it’s growing.
  • Circular economy is rising to the top of the agenda for many leading MNCs.
  • Quantifying a company’s human and social capital is top of mind for investors, as highlighted by the recently released Human and Social Capital Protocol that provides a detailed methodology and approach to make the conversation around human capital and social investments a key part of the decision in making investments.

2. The SDGs Really Do Matter

“The SDGs are a business’ license to operate.” Officially launched in 2015, the 17 Sustainable Development Goals seek to align private, social, and public interests to solve the most critical issues of our time. Although it has taken time for the private sector to align its strategy to take action, GreenBiz19 demonstrated how leading MNCs are using the SDGs not only as a CSR messaging piece but also as a critical component of their business strategy. Consider:

  • Companies are focusing on specific SDGs that directly link to the materiality of the business where they can take tangible action.
  • New SDG monitoring and evaluation practices, as highlighted by this tool by GRI, are being implemented, that are helping corporates best understand how to quantify their business and social strategy in an SDG context.
  • MNCs are positioning the SDGs not only externally, but also internally to use as a platform to align business units, the sustainability team, and the CSR/Foundation on a consistent and clear message.

3. Unlikely Partners: Competetive Collaboration

“We can go fast alone…but much faster together.” Partnership among competitors sounds like a textbook contradiction. GreenBiz19’s final overarching and possibly most game-changing theme was the large-scale announcements of some of the world’s largest competitors joining together to either 1) End plastic waste 2)  Collectively implement the circular economy  3) Reinvent the Milkman Home Delivery model with some of the world’s largest consumer goods companies, or 4) Create a sustainable cup. While all four of these collaborations show great promise, with the Milkman Home Delivery model (Loop) potentially serving as a significant disruptor to the current paradigm of online shopping, there is still a lot of work that has to be done to continue to make progress on creating authentic partnerships both internally and externally. Internally, companies are struggling with how to break down silos between business units, sustainability, CSR/Foundation, and communications to have an integrated approach to creating business opportunity in solving large societal issues. Externally, consumer trust is fractured and large MNCs have work to do in building authentic solutions to a more sustainable future.