Published: Mon, Feb 20, 2017
Author: Communications
Type: Insight

This event was the largest GreenBiz event in its nine-year history, with nearly 1,000 attendees in Phoenix and thousands more in virtual attendance across the globe.

The question on everyone’s mind this year was, “What’s next, and how do we move forward in the rapidly changing political climate?”

Most companies were specifically interested in next steps for ensuring that the sustainability progress seen in 2015 and 2016 continues to move forward.

This is the moment we’ve all been practicing for

Annie Leonard,Executive Director of Greenpeace USA

The hard work that companies have done over the past twenty years in building the business case for sustainability will help propel sustainable development post-2016.

“We’re here, and we’re not going away,” Joel Makower told the audience at the opening of the conference.

We are in uncharted territory as sustainable businesses, but we have to get up, stand up and speak up

Joel Makower,Chairman and executive editor at GreenBiz

Businesses don’t necessarily have a “playbook” for how to move forward, he said, but we must keep trying.

Top priorities for business and sustainability professionals over the course of 2017 and beyond must be to step up, and to do more.

In Peter Bakker’s keynote session on Plenary Day, he gave businesses three tips for how to navigate the new political reality:

  1. First, businesses must stay the course. It will be turbulent and there will be distractions - but we need to keep moving.
  2. Next, make it a priority to get the finance community involved. Use established frameworks to understand and communicate your sustainability risks.
  3. Finally, make sure we have neutral platforms to talk about our successes - that's the only way we'll make a change.

Storytelling was a prevalent theme over the course of GreenBiz17. Most speakers agreed that reframing the sustainability narrative and getting out of the “echo chamber” will be critical for the future of social and environmental movements worldwide.

Part of doing this properly will mean focusing on the business case and the economic opportunity that sustainable business brings.

Sustainability is about jobs and innovation – we should be proactive in telling THAT story

Jason Mathers,Director of Supply Chains at the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF)

Phoenix’s mayor, Greg Stanton, reflected similar messages – saying that the City of Phoenix is responsive to social and environmental issues when they’re framed as making economic sense.

“It’s not about green buzzwords,” he said, “it’s about the economy.”

Mayor Stanton has been instrumental in promoting sustainability solutions in Phoenix, Arizona, which was previously one of the least sustainable cities in the United States. There’s currently more of an appetite for collaboration between cities and business than ever before.

Participants and speakers alike stressed the need for corporate sustainability professionals to include financial experts in their efforts. Closer relationships between the CFO and the CSO will mean sustainability influence is reflected more widely across the company and the supply chain.

Participants witnessed one example of this kind of collaboration in an onstage discussion between Michael Kobori and Harmit Singh, the VP Social and Environmental Sustainability and the Executive Vice President and CFO (respectively) at LEVIS. Their partnership has been the driver behind pushing the company’s sustainability agenda to include water<less jeans, an entirely new approach for using less water in the finishing process for denim.

The thought leadership and partnership opportunities like those identified at GreenBiz served to underscore the progress that WBCSD is making on sustainability across the globe.  

Over the course of the week, WBCSD led the following sessions:

  • The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs): The Corporate Imperative – an onstage discussion with Peter Bakker
  • 2017’s first Below50 North America meeting – a breakout session attended by six companies and five organizations, led by Director of Climate and Energy, Rasmus Valanko
  • A tutorial on how corporates are aligning with the SDGs – a breakout session attended by more than 80 people, led by Managing Director of Social Capital, Filippo Veglio, and Director of Social Impact, Kitrhona Cerri
  • Enterprise Risk Management: The first step towards integration – a breakout session attended by more than 70 people, led by Managing Director of Redefining Value, Rodney Irwin.
  • Are Supply Webs a Path to the Circular Economy? – a breakout session attended by more than 40 people, and facilitated by Director of Sustainable Materials, Andrea Brown.
  • Climate Smart Agriculture and Food in North America – a breakout session attended by 20 top sustainability professionals in the food and agriculture space.
  • Additionally, the Reporting Exchange was well-represented and well-received over the course of the conference, with hundreds visiting our boothin the GreenBiz marketplace.

WBCSD member companies also continued to raise their profile as sustainability leaders who share a strong commitment to sustainability, demonstrating their belief that business must work together for a sustainable world as quickly as possible.  

Member companies who spoke onstage included:

  • Drew Wolff, VP Treasurer at Starbucks – who said “money talks, and corporations are global citizens.” He dove into Starbucks’ sustainability work on the Café program, and the reasoning behind purchasing their first green bond. “People are in, they want to invest, and they want to do the right thing,” he said.
  • Shannon Schulyer, Corporate Responsibility Leader at Pricewaterhouse Cooper (PwC) discussed how businesses can help build resilient cities for the good of business, society and the environment.
  • Brendan LeBlanc, Partner - Climate Change and Services at Ernst & Young, co-led the Sustainability and Enterprise Risk Management session with Rodney Irwin to provide insight the risk management landscape across the companies and sectors present.
  • Jeff Wooster, Global Sustainability Director at Dow Chemical discussed the importance of waste management solutions like tackling marine debris through our Roadmaps to Curbing Ocean Waste (ROW) program at WBCSD.

These are the kinds of stories that we need to continue telling, said Makower: the success stories.

Over the course of 2017 and beyond, WBCSD will continue to provide the  platform that helps our member our companies do just that: tell the success stories that will continue to move the dial on sustainable development.

The call to action for businesses as they move forward from GreenBiz17 was to:

1)      Keep telling lawmakers about the business case for sustainability

2)      And get better at telling sustainability success stories

In closing Joel Makower said, “Thank you. Now, go do more.”