That was the message at the Sustainability Breakfast Forum: “Perspectives on Embracing Sustainability as a True Business Value,” held on June 28 at the Omni New Haven Hotel in New Haven, CT.
This forum, sponsored by The Energy Efficiency Fund in partnership with The United Illuminating Company, the Greater New Haven Chamber of Commerce, and the City of New Haven, was designed for New Haven-area business leaders interested in new ideas and sharing best practices related to sustainability.
After opening remarks from New Haven Mayor John DeStefano, Connecticut DEP Commissioner Dan Esty (also author of Green to Gold), presented keynote remarks on how integrating sustainability into business models creates value.
The core of the morning’s program was a panel discussion in which representatives from United Technologies (UTC), Bigelow Tea, and Assa Abloy, (parent company of Sargent in New Haven) presented new and sustainable business practices that are now part of their companies’ daily operations. The panel was moderated by Stewart Hudson, of the New Haven-based Tremaine Foundation.
Sean West, representing UTC, spoke of the shift over time from compliance when sustainability measures were first undertaken in 1991, to compliance and conservation, to value chain, to the goal of eliminating all adverse impacts by 2015. UTC has seen the payback. All seven of UTC’s divisions work together to create a culture of eliminating waste.
Jm Gildea touched upon Bigelow’s SustainabiliTEA program. Initiatives range from installing solar panels, to rainwater harvesting, to composting cafeteria waste, to reducing use of shrink wrap, to shredding corrugated cardboard for use in gift packaging. The company has reduced its solid waste by half in four years, with the ultimate goal of reducing waste to 10% of what it was four years ago. Gildea was emphatic that sustainability is good for corporate branding. Customers support sustainability measures.
One message Aaron Smith of Assa Abloy had for participants was that sustainability can be integrated into everything you do; a second was that with complexity comes business opportunity. He cited three books as essential references: The Triple Bottom Line [A brief definition of the term “Triple Bottom Line” can be found here], Natural Capitalism: Creating the Next Industrial Revolution, and Esty’s Green to Gold.
Smith stated that Assa Abloy is a Swedish company, and that while sustainability is engrained in that culture [Stockholm has set a goal of being a fossil fuel-free city by 2050.], the movement is market-driven in the US. He discussed various initiatives for reporting corporate sustainability metrics and goals including: Global Reporting Initiative (GRI), UN Global Compact, Carbon Disclosure Project, and Save Energy Now. Assa Abloy uses Red, Yellow and Green auditing in their supply chain and has membership in the US and Canadian Green Building councils. Smith referred to such initiatives as a “regenerative network” for companies who want to be transformative and to show their customers measures of their success.
The speakers frequently touched upon the many resources available for help in reducing waste and making positive operational changes. The Business Sustainability Challenge, a pilot program recently introduced by the Energy Efficiency Fund, was often referenced.(See this link for one success story.)
Participants were also urged to read the CT Mirror and to make their opinions known there.
The prevailing message was optimistic — although we are in a time of crisis, it is a moment of opportunity to position ourselves to do better. As Jim Gildea of RC Bigelow stated, “Do the right thing and good things will follow.”