The Sustainability Summit grows up

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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