Remarks made at Winning Women Information Forum on Sustainability: Regional Challenges, Regional Opportunities conference at Ameren in August 2008
Sep 2nd, 2008 by Donna Vandiver
The Vandiver Group believes that sustainability is the next great frontier for business. And, the conversation about sustainability is just beginning.
Even the definition of sustainability is still emerging. When The Vandiver Group sent out our recent global sustainability strategy survey, several people wrote us to say they couldn’t answer questions about how they are approaching sustainability, unless we could define the term for them. The best definition we have found is simply – an economy that can be sustained indefinitely.
When sustainability is defined that way, we see trends that transcend climate change and challenge our ability to be sustainable. While practically everyone agrees that it’s important to minimize pollution and do more with fewer resources, the trends we’re tracking say it’s time for a new conversation in business – a dialogue about moving beyond greening. For example:
• We see a global population that continues to grow, while relying on limited natural resources. Here in St. Louis it’s easy to take good soil and water for granted, but those are scarce resources in some world areas.
• We see consumers in China and India and around the world increasing their use of fuel. As a result, there’s more pressure on limited fuel supplies, and more demand for alternative fuels. This has created a new and very complex balance between the need for food and the need for fuel.
• Another sustainability challenge is our increasing use of energy. As demand increases, we’re seeing increasing costs, political instability in regions that supply fuel; and the profound impact on the economy as gas surpassed $4 per gallon.
• We also see grave challenges with poverty. More of the 4.5 billion people who live directly off the land in other world areas are driven to cities because of habitat destruction.
Amidst all of these alarming trends, the study we conducted found that most businesses still lack a sustainability strategy. After all of the media coverage of greening topics such as climate change, that surprised us. The same study found that improving public perception is one of the most important drivers for those who do have a sustainability strategy. Perhaps, if more companies focused on genuine sustainability challenges instead of just improving public perception, both outcomes would happen. What better way to improve perception than to help solve the greatest challenges around energy, food and human health?
Whatever our views on any given environmental topic, we can all agree that change is upon us, more change is needed, and a greater focus on sustainability is in our collective future. The only real question a company faces is the degree to which it will be reactive – and merely repeat whatever environmental topics are trendy today – or proactive, and set the environmental agenda based on meeting real-world human needs. At The Vandiver Group, our commitment is to be proactive about sustainability.
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