The Future Is Now – 2014 Ceres Conference

Kylene Fickenscher

Over 600 people attended the 2014 Ceres Conference in Boston this past week―bringing together investors, businesses, and nonprofit organizations to help build a global economy that values sustainability. Much of this year’s conference program focused on developing corporate sustainability programs and investments in clean energy for a sustainable future.

Paul Gilding, author of The Great Disruption, kicked off the conference and discussed our society’s tough choice: We can sit and watch what happens as our world becomes more resource constrained and is forced to deal with the impacts, or we can make a radical transformation today in how we operate our businesses, design our policies, and live our lives. He argued that the companies on the “right side” of the transformation will be in a position to reap benefits from opportunities, such as innovative resource use and energy efficient technologies.

Paul’s presentation was echoed by Hannah Jones, Vice President of Sustainable Business & Innovation at Nike. One strategy Nike is using to move to the right side of the transformation is its effort to decouple company growth from natural resources as much as possible. To so do, Nike is reducing resource consumption, implementing innovative manufacturing processes, and moving toward a more service based offering (for instance, supporting customers in their health programs as opposed to only selling products). She notes that by taking this approach, Nike is reducing its business risk and investing in the long-term vitality of the company.

Another example is Nike’s effort to support advanced technologies for its suppliers, such as a new waterless fabric dying machine. In addition to reducing the amount of toxic chemicals in the production process, this technology reduces energy usage by 60% (with cost benefits to suppliers, and therefore, Nike) and reduces dye time by about 40%. According to Jones, we need to switch from our mental model of thinking about sustainability as a costly initiative and instead realize that there are often significant benefits that result from investments.

At Ecova, we help our clients clarify their sustainability goals and targets through our Strategy & Engagement services. Success comes when clients develop long-term strategies that are doable and provide a material economic benefit. Our subject matter experts at Ecova partner with clients to identify opportunities to reduce resource expenses, implement and evaluate different technologies, and develop cost-saving strategies. Through cohesive resource management, we help move our clients to the right side of the transformation and, like Nike, to reap the benefits.

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