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Posted: April 20, 2011

The Sustainability Summit grows up

The path is becoming more sophisticated

Martha Young

The 2011 Sustainable Opportunities Summit took a significant step forward in maturity this year, with breakout sessions organized along three tracks: Strategy, Tools and Fast Track. The keynotes and locknote were delivered by well-known people in the sustainable industry including Auden Schendler (Aspen Skiing Company), L. Hunter Lovins (Natural Capitalism Solutions) and Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper.

The strategy track sessions included panelists from large corporations along Colorado's Front Range, all of whom have moved beyond the passé recycle-your-waste-paper to robust corporate sustainability strategies. The strategies include identifying the business case for implementing a sustainability strategy and requiring extensive engagement from the C-suite through middle management and employees. They also engaged both the upstream supply chain and the downstream distribution. Repeatedly the audience heard the positive ROI obtained by these firms when the comprehensive sustainability strategy was in place.

This information is consistent with a recently released research report from MIT Sloan School of Business that states companies with sustainability strategies have measurably stronger financials than their peers who are moving forward with trepidation or do not have a sustainability strategy.

The Tools Track called out specific tools that are now available to companies of all sizes. Tools included a discussion on the advantages of using the GRI reporting model. The GRI is an international reporting framework for companies to identify the elements of a sustainability strategy that best map to their overall business strategy. Firms can be selective on the elements they choose to report on, making the framework flexible and easy to use across industries. The oil and gas industry has been using the GRI framework for several years allowing an apples-to-apples comparison within industry.

Other tools that were highlighted in the Tools track included employee and community engagement frameworks, supply chain engagement, life cycle engagement, balanced score card and its application, and Environmental Management Systems. You know the tools are flexible and useful when large analyst firms such as PwC, KPMG, and Cameron-Cole are using them in their professional services practice.

The third track, Fast Track, used case studies, more than a dozen from firms of all sizes. The case studies addressed how each company approached the journey of developing a sustainability strategy for their firm. They discussed the benefits of the implementation, repeatedly coming back to the ROI message.

The most telling aspect of the Summit's maturity, however, was the inclusion of companies from the oil and gas industry. Locally based Encana was a Summit sponsor. The second day's opening keynote was a panel discussion that included Newmont Mining and the president from the Colorado Oil & Gas Association. The panelists were not there as targets, but rather to discuss what the oil and gas industry is doing on their end to contribute to the sustainable energy future.

The bottom line, the Summit has moved away from the unrealistic concept of all energy coming from alternative sources, to a more rational balanced approach that all energy sources need to be included if we are to effectively meet the future global energy demands.

The Summit is organized by CORE Colorado in partnership with CU's Leeds School of Business, Deming Center for Entrepreneurship.

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Martha Young is principal at NovaAmber, LLC, a business strategy company based in Golden. Young has held positions as industry analyst, director of market research, competitive intelligence analyst, and sales associate. She has written books, articles, and papers regarding the intersection of technology and business for over 15 years. She has co-authored four books on the topics of virtual business processes, virtual business implementations, and project management for IT. Young can be reached at or on Twitter @myoung_vbiz




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Readers Respond

John, Thanks for reading and commenting! You should consider reaching out to CORE and re-engaging. There have been numerous positive changes in the organization. In my opinion, the changes have brought the group more to the center and open to hearing dissenting views. Virginia, Thanks for taking the time to read and comment on the post. The Summit was terrific this year! By Martha Young on 2011 04 20
comical, this left wing organization took me off their email list because, evidently my questions couldn't be answered. They ACTUALLY said that my views weren't like theirs. amazing narrow view which I take as fear of exposure By John Wray on 2011 04 20
Martha, thank you for writing this good article on the evolution of the Sustainable Opportunities Summit! It is our annual "local" place to gather and learn on these global topics as a community of individuals and business people. As you pointed out there was a significant difference this year in the programming mindset and I'd like mention that the first of the three 'tracks' was the STRATEGY track (and Tools and Fast 'Tracks.') The Global Reporting Initiative session was a Strategy track - It fits for tools, however to embed 'sustainability' (systems) thinking, the GRI gives us a comprehensive process for determining material aspects of our business and guidance for authentic stakeholder engagement. By Virginia Winter on 2011 04 20

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