UCLA Hosts Energy & Sustainability Symposium Promoting Sustainability Integration into Business Strategy
On September 1st, the UCLA Faculty Center hosted an Energy & Sustainability Symposium. Sponsored by Johnson Controls, General Electric, LA County, City of LA, the Department of Energy, EPA’s Energy Star Program, and UCLA, the symposium focused on fostering private and public partnerships in sustainability. It consisted of speakers and panels from UCLA, private companies and public entities.
Paul Bunje, Managing Director of the Los Angeles Regional Collaborative for Climate Action and Sustainability (LARC) helped organize the event. LARC is a network formed to engage leadership within government, academia, labor, environmental and community sectors, in addition to the business community. He opened the symposium with his remarks about its theme of public-private partnerships, and encouraged the use of these partnerships to define LA as a global leader in Climate Action and Sustainability.
Next up was Eric Lowitt. Eric is an “architect of sustainability” who has been published extensively, and led the sustainability research program at Accenture (about Eric). His upcoming book is titled The Future of Value (about the book). Eric asserts that sustainability has emerged as the newest dimension of competitive strategy. In response, some companies have become Sustainable Market Leaders by incorporating sustainability into their company strategy. Eric’s presentation focused on how these companies made this integration, and what made them successful:
1. Companies have put in place a comprehensive sustainability plan. 2 out of 3 of the global Fortune 500 companies saw their initial sustainability strategies fail, despite best intentions, due to lack of comprehensiveness.
2. Companies have a leadership structure for sustainability. This includes a robust sustainability governance structure and a stakeholder advisory panel.
3. Companies execute and implement a sustainability plan. They see sustainability as an opportunity for growth instead of risk mitigation. One example is the Monadnock Paper Mills of Bennington, NH that manufactures apparel hang tags for The Gap because they have Environmental Management System.
4. Data is good, insight is better. For example, tracking carbon emissions every quarter and finding the most efficient method is better than raw numbers.
5. Sustainability is about changing the plan as new information becomes available. This involves employing the CLEAR model, and not “setting and forgetting” a sustainability plan. For example, GE’s Smart Grid challenge invited contestants to submit their ideas; GE will fund the best proposal.
Eric was kind enough to answer some follow-up questions after his presentation. Below are his responses.
1. Of your five tips for a successful sustainability strategy, your second tip is to create a leadership structure for sustainability. What are some of your tips for ways to engage senior-level support for a successful strategy?
The trick is to show how embracing sustainability can lead to increased profitability. In companies where sustainability is integrated with strategy, the creation of sustainability strategy relies in a common approach. That approach is a ‘2-by-2’ box where companies place all things important to them in a box on the lower right marked ‘high’ (there’s also a box in the lower left marked ‘low’) and then follow the same exercise with stakeholders in mind.
Companies then set goals to accomplish within each of these ‘high importance’ issues. For Sustainable Market Leaders, it is sustainability.
2. Where do you see corporate sustainability headed in 5, 10, 20 years? What are the issues corporations need to focus on to create a successful long-term sustainability strategy?
There are 3 important trends in the sustainability movement:
- The Sustainability Movement within industry will morph into the Restorability Movement. This will be a sign of the Movement’s success. In contrast to social and environmental movements of the 1960s and 1990s, this movement will last by connecting sustainability with core business activities and values.
- The Sustainability Movement will combine with previous imperatives (quality, business process reengineering, globalization, and the dot-com). Sustainability will become the new imperative.
- The basis of industry competition will shift from company versus company to corporate network versus corporate network. The Sustainability Movement is leading to the adoption of multi-stakeholder approaches to address environmental challenges. Successful companies will be those that create capabilities to evolve their sustainability strategies as the sustainability movement itself evolves.
UCLA’s Institute of the Environment and Sustainability