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My Top Eleven Takeaways from WSJ’s Conference on Business and Sustainability

[fa icon="calendar'] Apr 3, 2012 5:25:00 AM / by Cynthia Figge

By Cynthia Figge


A week ago I attended the Wall Street Journal ECO:nomics Conference. This event was brimming with over 200 CEOs, entrepreneurs, industry experts and policymakers, discussing profitability, innovation, and smarter uses of energy. The focus was on the opportunities and risks that are quickly emerging and changing across sectors within the intersection of business and environment. While the event left me with many thought provoking questions and ideas, I wanted to share some of what caught my attention the most here:

1. We have a chance of reaching 50% renewable energy use in the 2060 timeframe, but it will take at least one of five miracles to come true, and about 200 crazy people working really hard at all five.
Bill Gates, Co-chair, Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and Chairman, Microsoft


2. We need a rapid change to get to 50% renewable energy in 10 years. The best generalized solution would be to price CO2.
Elon Musk, Chairman and CEO, Tesla Motors and CEO and CTO, SpaceX

3. We must change our source of food – raising cattle the way we do it doesn’t work.
J. Craig Venter, Chairman and President, J. Craig Venter Institute 

4. The present and future role of natural gas is contested, but it could be the best bridge fuel as we move away from petroleum altogether. We could cut our consumption of OPEC oil by 60%.
T. Boone Pickens, Chairman, BP Capital Management and Edward G. Rendell, Former Governor, State of Pennsylvania

5. Most people believe that there is environmental damage involved in fracking, but it’s needed for the future of energy in the US. In the words of California Governor Jerry Brown, fracking is not as bad as environmentalists say, or as good as the companies say.  How do we make the best out of a bad situation? (For more on this issue, watch for the upcoming CSRHub blog on fracking as a new special issue).
Aubrey K. McClendon, Chairman and CEO, Chesapeake Energy

6. By improving ESG (environment, social, and governance) principles, sustainability can mean more cash flow and making more money. This is crucial for incenting and supporting companies with sustainability missions.
David M. Rubenstein, Managing Director, The Carlyle Group

7. Our consumption and daily habits add up, but can add up for good. For example, Robert McDonald says 4.4 billion people on the planet use a P&G product every day. Today 40% of laundry is washed in cold water – P&G has a goal of 70% in cold water. This alone would have an impact on several percentage points of the world’s GHG emissions.
Robert A. McDonald, Chairman, President and CEO, The Procter & Gamble Company

8. Selling green is about being honest. Marketers have less control over the message, and are instead are expected to be transparent and authentic.
Dara O’Rourke, Chief Sustainability Officer, GoodGuide

9. We have the technology to reduce waste and increase recycling, reaching a waste diversion rate close to 100%. But this is an area where we need very effective subsidies and incentives, and a change in culture and behavior.
David P. Steiner, President and CEO, Waste Management

10. The best companies are embedding sustainability into their innovation pipeline. It’s in everything they do and it’s part of their image and brand.
Betty Noonan, Senior Vice President, Panasonic Consumer Marketing Company of North America  

11. China had more patent applications than the US for the first time in history last year. This marks a change in innovation, transparency, and the rule of law. This will go a long way to sparking change for sustainability in China’s economy and workforce.
C. S. Kiang, Chairman, Sustainable Development Technology Foundation

These are just some of the great comments, discussion points, and reflections I heard while in Santa Barbara. There was a clear focus on natural gas at this conference, and how the abundance of a cheaper, cleaner alternative to petroleum has changed the energy market in the US. While natural gas was once thought to be a bridge fuel to a low (or no) carbon economy, that bridge appears to be getting longer.

It is always interesting to see how a change in a key issue around energy, or any topic under the sustainability umbrella, can change how we perceive the challenges and the solutions. This is one of the reasons why in our sustainability reporting and aggregation of data, CSRHub allows users the ability to filter the data they see. A key issue, like natural gas, is the type of specific wedge point that may shift our understanding of sustainability and CSR.


Cynthia Figge, Cofounder and COO of CSRHub is a forerunner and thought leader in the corporate sustainability movement. In 1996 she co-founded EKOS International, one of the first consultancies integrating sustainability and corporate strategy. Cynthia has worked with major organizations including BNSF, Boeing, Coca-Cola, Dow Jones, Noranda and REI to help craft sustainability strategy integrated with business. She was an Officer of LIN Broadcasting/McCaw Cellular leading new services development, and started a new “Greenfield” mill with Weyerhaeuser. She serves as Advisor to media and technology companies, and served as President of the Board of Sustainable Seattle. Cynthia has an MBA from Harvard Business School. Cynthia is based in the Seattle area.

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Solution Labs Conference

[fa icon="calendar'] May 23, 2010 4:58:00 PM / by Bahar Gidwani

 

Had the pleasure of being invited to the Solution Labs conference last week, here in New York.  About 60 folks showed up for the event, which was hosted in Bloomberg's headquarters and sponsored by folks like the Green Innovation in Business Network (GIBN), Environmental Defense Fund, Sony, BSR, and Cleantech Law Partners.  (BTW, I've only noted those partners I got a chance to schmooze with.)  The conference was emceed by folks from Dig In, a sustainability consulting group that is headquartered in San Francisco.

As you can guess, it is always a pleasure to sit and chat with 59 other people who care about sustainability, improving the world, doing good, etc.  The notes from the session are publicly available on a WetPaint Wiki, and you can get a full view of what happened at the session, there.  However, I brought home two observations to share--plus a couple questions I hope I can get help on.

First observation.  I was pleased to see a practical and business-like attitude among the participants.  There was no posturing or denouncing of society's evils--no call to man the barricades and start burning tires!  Instead, I heard tons of practical, well-supported, sensible ideas for making things better.  We really fulfilled the promise of the session's title--and offered solutions rather than positions.

Second observation.  I heard a big demand for a Web-based source of facts on corporate social responsibility (CSR) and more web-based communities of practice on various CSR-related issues.  It felt good to be providing the former through our CSRHUB site and I got several opportunities to mention resources we know for the latter such as CSRwire, GoodGuide, Alonovo, Climate Counts, Eco_Plum and WikiPositive.  I was disappointed that some of these sites are not as well known as they should be.  We need to do our share to communicate their value to the rest of our community.

First question.  An increasing number of corporations put information on sustainability and social performance into a separate section of their Web site.  For instance, Hanesbrands has a separate site that reports specifically on Hanes CSR performance.  Sony has also built a separate subdomain for Sony's CSR work.  It’s good to see mini sites on things like recycling (here is Dell's effort in the recycling area).  The CSRHUB site links to the top level Web page of all 5,000 companies we cover.  Should we also make room on our page for links to company CSR sites?  To other sites related to sustainability, within a company's Web space?

Second question.  Does the CSR/sustainability area have patent risk?  Biotech, electronics, and other fast-growing areas have been tormented by patent infringement issues.  Companies race forward and confidently introduce new products, only to discover that they have inadvertently stepped on a patent held by someone else.  I wonder if there are any broad patents pending or recently granted that could change our area and introduce risk and uncertainty into our product plans?

The GIBN folks are taking their Solution Labs program to a number of other locations.  If you are interested in CSR and sustainability, you should consider joining a session and contributing your ideas.  I know they would welcome your participation, and we’ll benefit from the information they capture and disseminate via their Wiki.

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