The Business Case for Sustainability

From The Daily News, Published 1 April 2015

As businesses, industry, and manufacturers vie for a piece of the ever-shrinking pie, they turn toward sustainability during procurement. Companies are looking hard at their supply bases to ensure suppliers reflect their values. They ask: “From whom are we buying, and why does it matter?” “What are we buying, and why does that matter?” Companies want to know how and where suppliers present risks – environmentally, socially, and economically. This new focus on supply quality helps companies focus on choosing suppliers who can be relied upon to improve the supply base’s overall performance.

One of the greatest opportunities lies in translating big-business thinking and strategies to smaller businesses and more local or regional circumstances. Global-sized industries, for example, are nearly universally seeking to reduce their carbon footprints, going well beyond mere regulatory compliance. They’re increasingly keen to show commitment to human rights, labor rights and poverty issues, and taking an ever-longer term view of basic resource shortages.

It’s not just for show. Between 50 percent and 70 percent of business expenses, and about three quarters of greenhouse-gas emissions, originate in the supply chain. This translates big-business concerns into practical and immediate concerns for all those businesses – big, medium and small – all along the supply chain. Supply, logistics and transportation are all involved, and will all have to meet increasingly stringent standards imposed by their larger downstream customers.

It isn’t enough, of course, just to impose standards. The question quickly becomes, for those in the supply chain: How can we meet those standards? We will all now have to become willing to learn, teach, and share – across boundaries of industry, size, position in the chain, even nations – what we know and the techniques we use.

FedEx, International Paper, the International Society of Sustainability Professionals, CRG Sustainable Solutions, The Sustainability Consortium, Memphis-Shelby County Office of Sustainability and a number of other organizations large and small have come together in a highly original partnership to sponsor an upcoming business conference in April. They will focus on the concept of sustainability – still a new concept for many in business, government and nonprofit circles. The central notion in sustainability is the idea that both business and environmentalist concerns have their answer in developing business models and methods that simultaneously advance the cause of environmental preservation and keeping business going.

The first Earth Month Business Conference will take place on April 7, 2015, from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. at the University of Memphis Holiday Inn and will feature speakers from FedEx, International Paper, Brother International Corp., Smith & Nephew, Buckman International, Sealed Air, IFCO, Virdian and others.

This conference is about changing the mindset of business to embrace the notion of permanence, of thinking long-term and even forever, for business and for the natural environment. The conference will cross boundaries of industry and size to build a forum for exchanging ideas and tools among companies, governments and nonprofits large and small, responding creatively to sustainability issues. The conference will gather sustainability professionals from all across the entire products-and-services lifespan – sourcing, purchasing, manufacturing, warehousing, shipping, recycling and waste disposal with an aim to break ‘silo’ thinking patterns and share successes. The conference will link businesses of all sizes, from big internationals down to the smallest operations. The aim: adapting big-business methods to smaller scales. Governments and nonprofits, regional and local, also will have their presence, sparking dialogue among public and private organizations, prompting fresh thought and action.

The conference will highlight success stories like the partnership between FedEx and RockTenn, in which FedEx buys cardboard boxes, requiring certain sustainability standards from supplier RockTenn, which specifies standards to FedEx’s satisfaction. But FedEx takes another step: asking its box supplier to develop sustainability standards for its suppliers.

At the end of the conference will be the launch of a new chapter of the International Society of Sustainability Professionals, serving Arkansas, Mississippi, and Tennessee, the region’s first such organization. The ISSP has stood since 2007 as an organization dedicated both to serving sustainability practitioners as professionals and to advancing the collective cause of businesses and other organizations concerned with sustainability itself.

For additional reading regarding corporate sustainability, please refer to the following links:
Why ESG Integration is Good for Your Business
The Need to Optimize an Organization’s Supply Chain
Benchmarking Climate Change Performance Across Supply Chains