Every two years, Vancouver’s GLOBE conference brings together thousands of sustainable business leaders. Here are some of the tips and trends emerging from the conference.
Companies Must Connect with Society
Canada needs “consensus on how to develop socially, environmentally, economically,” said David Labistour, CEO of Mountain Equipment Co-op (MEC). Gord Lambert, executive advisor for sustainability and innovation at Suncor Energy, echoed him: “As a society, we are struggling on how to have dialogue on complex, systems-type problems.”
Without a shared view of sustainability issues, progress becomes difficult and can only be achieved piecemeal. “MEC isn’t talking to government because we don’t believe government can move the dial,” Labistour said. Patrick Daniel, former CEO of Enbridge, added: “If the general public wants to drive around in their Hummers and buy large screen TVs, how can they expect corporations to solve the problems of the world?”
How can companies and society connect? Listen and engage, said conference speakers. “We need to grow ears and reduce the size of our tongue,” suggested Warren Allen, president of the International Federation of Accountants. Dayna Baumeister, co-founder of Biomimicry 3.8, suggested that business “quiet our cleverness.”
Change is Inevitable
Expectations of business will inevitably increase. Business actions that “used to be great 20 years ago [are] not even acceptable today,” said Beverly Briscoe, chair of the audit committee for Goldcorp.
That environment means uncertainty for business. Anthony Hodge, CEO of the International Council for Mining and Metals, noted that “industry says, ‘tell us what the rules are.’ But the rules will change. Environmental regulations will ramp up.”
How can business adjust? Connections with society can keep business attuned to trends and shifts. Businesses must also take a longer-term perspective.
For more on how business can adopt a long-term perspective: an NBS report, to be released this fall, will address “How business can act for tomorrow today” (one of NBS’s top knowledge priorities for 2014).
Sustainability actions lead to a better workforce. Patrick Daniel recalled that when Enbridge expanded from traditional energy into renewables, “the biggest benefit is that we could hire people we could never hire before. They are the most passionate, engaged employees in the organization. They wouldn’t come to work for us on hydrocarbons….Though sometimes they will transition to hydrocarbons after joining the business.”
Beverly Briscoe saw similar impact when Goldcorp increased its community development activities: “In the mining industry, it’s hard to attract talent. When you [talk about] changing the lives of communities, it does attract new talent.”
For more on how sustainability affects employee recruitment and retention, see “Three Reasons Job Seekers Prefer Sustainable Companies.”
Leadership is Needed — at all Levels of Companies
“There is an environmental literacy gap in the C-suite. Until that’s overcome, you’ll always have a spotty response in parts of the business,” said Henry Stoch, partner at Deloitte Canada. Quantifying sustainability issues can make them more relevant and accessible to senior management, he said.
Some at the conference described younger employees as more progressive, and called for them to have more input into strategy. Patrick Daniel described trying to set up a “reverse mentorship” program at Enbridge, with employees under 30 advising senior staff. “I couldn’t get it going: old people think they should be telling young people what to do.”
NBS’s project on embedding sustainability in organizational culture provides a template for building sustainability into the organization. NBS is evolving this knowledge through the Embedding Sustainability Working Group (ESWG), a collaboration of researchers and companies. The ESWG presented at GLOBE, and we’ll feature highlights in the next newsletter.
Spinning the GLOBE
“GLOBE provides an important lens on current sustainability thinking,” says Pam Laughland, managing director of NBS. “Our role at NBS is to contribute to that picture and build on it — bringing insights that bridge both public and private sectors.”
We welcome your thoughts. If you attended GLOBE, what did you find meaningful? What should be on the agenda at meetings like GLOBE? Please share your comments below.
This article was first published on the Network for Business Sustainability website on March 31, 2014 and is reprinted here with the kind permission of the author. NBS mounted a standing room only session at GLOBE 2014 Embedding Sustainability in Company Culture: Learning from Research and Practice