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The Year in Review:
Sustainability Leaders Raise the Bar Rather Than Toe the Line

While in the past I have written summaries that looked back on accomplishments and challenges in sustainable development over the last 12 months, this year, I’ve decided to take a different approach. Instead, on the heels of COP22, I asked sustainability leaders to share their thoughts about where things are today, and where they see things going. Of course many were encouraged by the more than 365 companies that pledged to continue their carbon-reduction efforts at that meeting in Marrakech.

“Companies that are embedding sustainability at the core of their business strategy will be the successful leading brands of the next economy,” says KoAnn Vikoren Skrzyniarz, founder and CEO of Sustainable Brands. “The Sustainable Brands Member Network, comprising over 60 brands representing $2.4 trillion in revenue, is the leading peer-to-peer, learning and networking group designed to support brands in meeting their sustainability goals and ultimately becoming leaders of the next sustainable economy.”

While there is comfort in these numbers, I also wanted to share thoughts from a sampling of companies across many sectors that have embraced sustainable development into their strategies, recognized the benefits and, if anything, are accelerating their efforts, which is good news for people, planet and profitability.

Cornerstone Capital: Exponential change will continue

“We are heartened by recent historical trends that climate change-mitigating technology, such as renewable power and battery technology, have fallen in price and increased in penetration faster than anyone predicted even a few years ago,” shared John K. S. Wilson, Head of Corporate Governance, Engagement and Research at Cornerstone Capital. “We believe that a combination of technological innovation, investor focus, consumer demand and governmental regulation, working together, has and will continue to produce exponential change.”

General Mills: Climate action now common sense

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“There is a business rationale, and an emerging consensus up and down the value chain that we need to act, which is why we have made ambitious commitments to support sustainability – through water, climate, our operations and our ingredients,” said Jerry Lynch, Chief Sustainability Officer at General Mills. “These commitments better position us to partner broadly on more resilient supply chains.”

Hostelling International: Sustainable Development Goals as a roadmap

Hostelling International USA CEO Russ Hedge serves as a Vice Chair for the Affiliate Group of the UN World Tourism Organization. In support of 2017 as the UN Year of Sustainable Tourism for Development, his company is embracing the 4 Sustainable Development Goals they feel are “most relevant to our brand and nonprofit mission: Quality Education (SDG#4); Sustainable Cities and Communities (#11); Responsible Consumption and Production (#12); and Peace, Justice and Strong Institutions (#16). To support this, HI USA is creating resources for the greater public to raise awareness of sustainable travel, themed Pack Your Impact. These include guides, tools, and activities rolled out throughout 2017 designed to show the traveling public fun and innovative ways to be a more sustainable traveler.”

AMD: First-Mover advantage on climate change

AMD is proud that our company-wide climate targets are certified as “science-based” by the Science-Based Targets Initiative. AMD continues to build on our history of setting and achieving climate goals, which we will aggressively and voluntarily pursue into the future, regardless of the regulatory environment,” said Tim Mohin, Senior Director of Corporate Responsibility for AMD Public Affairs.

Dow: Sustainability key part of how we do business

"At Dow, sustainability is an integral part of who we are as a company and how we do business. We are developing blueprints, through our 2025 Sustainability Goals, for a sustainable planet and society and have long been - and remain - committed to applying science expertise to create sustainable solutions to some of the world's greatest challenges," said Neil Hawkins, Corporate VP and Chief Sustainability Officer at Dow. “What exactly does that look like from an implementation perspective? "We are implementing natural capital decision-making on a global business scale that has never been done before and are also well on our way to our goal of 750 MW of clean energy capacity, making Dow a world leader in renewable energy use.”

Miami University: Climate change education critically important

Doug Hammerle, Director of Energy Systems at Miami University, shares how they not only serve as a model, but are working on educating the next generation of sustainability leaders: “Miami University is a public university – that implies responsible use of resources in addition to learning. For us it means smarter use of resources, and learning among staff and faculty, as well as students. Sustainability at Miami University means reducing waste by increasing efficiency and being a model for innovative approaches to land, water and fuel use on campus. We want to preserve what we have and we want to grow leaders who will take sustainability to new areas and levels.”


While there was a great deal of attention – and not to diminish the importance of the agreement signed at COP 21, it is important to note that in many ways the commitments made by both the private and public sectors in Paris (and reaffirmed and ratified over the last year) weren't actually tremendously additive to what was going on already. And as the economics and coat curves play out, the transition will only accelerate. That’s borne out by companies such as Unilever: Back in May, Unilever announced that its portfolio of Sustainable Living brands were growing 30 percent faster than the rest of its business and delivered nearly half the total company growth in 2015.

Lastly, I turned to Aman Singh, a close friend, an accomplished journalist and one of the most ‘connected’ people I have met in the sustainability space, who now works with organizations of varying size and needs on sustainability communications strategy through RF|Binder. “I find our sector in a similar place as it was in 2008, right in the middle of the financial crisis,” she recalled. “I am reminded again that it is at the precipice that we evolve. When we’re put on the offensive, we emerge stronger – and that’s the ethos and mindset that I am going to take forward, and every business professional I have spoken with, every Twitter chat I have participated in, every podcast I have heard, and every op-ed I have read has shared my passion and commitment.”

With that in mind, welcome 2017.


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