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Beyond the Business Case for Sustainability at Pittsburgh’s Top Companies: Moving from Why to How
For most companies concerned with achieving stable, consistent growth, sustainability is not a new word. Terms like the Triple Bottom Line (people, planet, profit) are becoming more commonly used as organizations realize that environmental stewardship and ethical treatment of stakeholders go hand-in-hand with financial success. Leading businesses, both locally and worldwide, understand the business case for sustainable development but are constantly working to optimize their strategic plans. “Why” is no longer the question; they are now concerned with “how.”
Duquesne University, host of this event, is home to one of the top-ranked MBA in Sustainability programs in the world. Attendees gathered in the school’s LEED Silver Power Center and heard from authors, thought leaders, and representatives from Pittsburgh-based companies, as well as from students currently enrolled in the program. These future business leaders presented their findings on a variety of energy efficiency topics, including some near and dear to AFEG: how adjustments can be made to building envelope, HVAC, lighting, and computer equipment to save energy and money.2
The morning speaker Andrew Winston, author of Green to Gold, described how corporate entities as well as governments are shifting to more sustainable practices to be more competitive. For example, Germany and Saudi Arabia are investing in solar technology; China is outspending the US ten-to-one in renewable energy; the US Navy is the biggest buyer of biofuels in the world; Walmart is biggest commercial buyer of renewable energy in our country. These entities are changing their practices because they have clear, long-term goals for success, and they understand the role responsible resource use plays in meeting those goals. The business case for energy efficiency is simple: lower consumption equals lower costs. However, Winston’s point was that organizations do not need to make cost savings the goal. Rather, if reduced environmental impact is the goal, energy (and cost) savings will follow. “Greatness is the goal,” he said, “while profits are the by-product."3
Winston was followed by a panel of representatives from Pittsburgh companies (Alcoa, Wabtec, Orbital Engineering, and Excela Health) who summarized the histories of their organizations as well as changes in common business practices over the past century. The last 100 years have seen an increase in business ethics, community involvement, and environmental stewardship in the region. Looking forward to the next century, panel members stressed the importance of never being satisfied with achievements, but rather always striving for the next goal. They stated that true innovation requires the discipline to create a long-term vision for the company, the ability to shift priorities from shareholder to stakeholder needs, and the willingness to collaborate with other organizations.
Bill McDonough, architect, consultant, and author (Cradle to Cradle), closed the day by asking the assembled companies to consider “what’s next” for products we use, for our businesses, and for our species. By asking this question, we become actively engaged in waste reduction, efficient resource use, and more holistic systems thinking. Increased efficiency and reduced consumption are steps in the right direction, but he was quick to point out that reducing negative impacts does not eliminate negative impacts. The key to successful environmental stewardship is increasing the amount of good we do, not simply decreasing the bad. McDonough stressed the importance of modeling good business practices for others in order to serve as a benchmark for other organizations and influence positive change across industries.4
Leading companies serve as examples whether they intend to or not. Businesses must compete in order to succeed, but recognizing a common goal is crucial in achieving that goal. Speakers throughout the day reminded the audience the importance of healthy, not destructive, competition. Allowing for open collaboration and feedback between organizations fosters improvement of products and processes across the board. It is by working together that businesses will be able to develop innovative solutions and become more adaptable to change. Pittsburgh, hailed as a “green” city, is filled with influential companies that understand the importance of energy efficiency. Communication and teamwork between these organizations is a key step toward the development of innovative, responsible, low-impact/high-performance businesses.
2 Matthew Ebberts, Gregg Gorse, Atalie Hayes, Andrew Minnotte. Duquesne University, MBA Sustainability Program. Poster reprinted with permission.
4 William McDonough.