The greening of business:
Involving local business
By Chris Cole
A major challenge for us today is to get business involved as a stakeholder in the creation of sustainable communities and the development of sustainable business practices and enterprises. We had many discussions in our working group about how to motivate and connect with the business community of Northeast Ohio.
There are three things that we think are important to know about business. First, business is the engine of economic change. Second, business is driven not only by profits but also by cost reduction, market position, and vision. And third, a business' vision and economic measures of success are set by the executive group.
To get business to the table, the sustainability message has to be heard by the people who can cause change, namely the executive group. Through networking and personal contacts we have to be able to explain why a focus on sustainability will help their company, fit their vision, reduce their costs, or give them a competitive advantage. How do you convey this message? The message has to be simple, credible, relevant, timely, and it has to be in small steps because sustainability is a long process.
There are some obvious barriers to this process. Some of the biggest ones are organizational barriers, such as communicating to people who are unable to act on it. And then some companies are simply averse to changing. They consider things to be high risk, and they get locked into stagnation. Or there are regulatory barriers, such as existing incentives or obsolete old standards that were originally designed as a floor but have become a ceiling to progress. There are informational barriers, including lack of accurate and up-to-date information about the availability of more sustainable practices. There is capital misallocation, which may result from different financial perspectives of the engineer and the executive group. And then there is the problem of false price signals the marketplace not counting for all the costs of business activity.
A number of local organizations have worked to break down these barriers during the past 20 years. These include Build Up Greater Cleveland, the Environmental Assistance Center at Tri-C, and the Cleveland Advanced Manufacturing Program (CAMP). Many of these organizations are involved in communicating new business concepts and job training. Communication and education are the best strategies to overcoming all the barriers to transforming business.
Chris Cole is with Venture Lighting Inc.
Broadening the base
By Lisa Hong
Our working group activities have been part of an ongoing process of involving local businesses in environmental and sustainability initiatives. We are interested in linking together and building upon the good work already being done. Such initiatives include CAMP, the Small Business Environmental Assistance Center, Shorebank Enterprise Group, Cuyahoga County Solid Waste District, Battelle Environmental Technology Commercialization Center, Church in the City Reindustrialization Initiatives, Ohio EPA's Pollution Prevention Program, U.S. EPA's Sustainable Industries, Ohio Department of Development, Earth Day Coalition's Clean Cities Program, and companies such as Rockwell Automation, Venture Lighting, American Greetings, Edward Howard, and Burgess and Burgess.
About two years ago, the Center for the Environment at Case Western Reserve University convened interested organizations, companies, academics to develop a plan for a Northeast Ohio Sustainable Business Council. We began to meet monthly to develop strategies and a business plan. Concurrently, the Ohio Environmental Council published reports of pollution prevention success stories from Cuyahoga and Lorain counties. The Sustainable Business Council and the Ohio Environmental Council then worked together to organize pollution prevention awards ceremonies in the two counties, and the director of the Ohio Chamber of Commerce was the keynote speaker at both of those events. I think he was very surprised to get the invitation. He said it was the first time he had heard the environmental community applauding progress which companies had worked very hard and spent billions of dollars to achieve.
So it was clear that interest and momentum were building for the Sustainable Business Council. The group's business plan set as its top priority the test of engaging senior level executives about opportunities and tools for creating sustainable enterprises. We felt that business leaders first needed to become invested in making changes for sustainability within their own internal operations before they'd be ready to assume a leadership role in the larger community.
Last year, the Center for Regional Economic Issues at Case Western Reserve University's Weatherhead School of Business invited the Sustainable Business Council to help develop an executive institute around the topic. So we are proud to announce that we are launching the Weatherhead Institute on Sustainable Enterprise, which will run September through December of this year. (Incidentally, our acronym for the program, WISE, was a very happy and appropriate accident.)
SCS 2000 has provided another opportunity to expand the conversation about sustainable business. The Business and Economics Working Group has involved about 30 individuals representing as many organizations and companies to develop an action agenda.
Our first goal is to encourage sustainability as a regional economic development tool. That consists of expanding business expansion and retention efforts to include sustainable "quality of life" benefits in addition to consideration of cost and availability of workers. Second, we want to link sustainable businesses with workforce education issues.
We also want to develop an environmental business technology cluster. There is a great opportunity, billions of dollars worldwide, in this industry, and we think we have the right components in the community here. Let's bring them together and see what we can do.
Another goal involves promoting the reindustrialization of the inner city. We need to address financing mechanisms, land availability, zoning issues, environmental cleanup and other issues.
Finally, we need to facilitate the greening of businesses. This will involve communicating profitable opportunities, recruiting business leaders who will champion sustainability and provide assistance with new environmental technologies.
We are excited about possibilities for the future. The process has begun to engage local business leaders. Networks are developing. We are starting to explore what it means to be a sustainable business in Northeast Ohio.
Lisa Hong is helping to organize the Northeast Ohio Sustainable Business Council.
Proceedings of Sustainable Communities Symposium 2000
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Here are sustainability priorities presented by the Business and Economics Working Group.
Continue to develop ways to engage business in sustainability initiatives
Encourage the reindustrialization of the inner city through brownfield cleanup, land assembly and eco-industrial parks.
Create opportunities for businesses to share resources towards creating "green" businesses and sustainable communities
Encourage sustainability as a regional economic development tool
We have to recognize that we've reached a watershed in the economy, a point at which "growth" and profitability will be increasingly derived from the abatement of environmental degradation, the furthering of ecological restoration, and the mimicking of natural systems.