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2015 Sustainable Business and Social Impact Conference Highlights

Clarkston recently attended the Sustainable Business and Social Impact Conference at the Fuqua Business School in Durham, NC. This event marked the 10th annual gathering of experts and thought leaders in sustainable business, attracting over 500 attendees from other consultancies, leading corporate brands, NGO’s, and academia.

The focus of the event was to discuss and brainstorm how to turn ideas around sustainability into action. For years there has been an emerging market and desire for existing companies to more aggressively use “business as a force for good” (B Corp) but there has also been a burning question for each of these organizations to address as they pursue sustainability endeavors – what programs can we put in place that will most effectively make a positive impact on society and the world?

According to John Replogle, CEO of Seventh Generation, the greatest challenges of our time can be grouped into 6 key areas that companies need to more aggressively address: human rights, water shortage, health crisis, well-being gap, climate change, and loss of biodiversity. Throughout the conference we heard from several business leaders that are reacting to these challenges and working to do “better” by leveraging different avenues for change:

• Creating New Fundamentals through Research: leaders at companies like Novozymes and Dupont are continuously investigating new ways to increase raw material efficiency and energy consumption; improvements that can be embedded into product design world-wide and reduce the environmental impact of billions of companies.
• Incorporating Sustainability into their Supply Chains: manufacturers are making strategic, long-term supply chain decisions that will not only improve their sustainability rating, but that will also help them reduce material and energy waste and costs. Companies like Walmart are helping them to move in this direction.
• Developing Partnerships with NGO’s: companies like Coca-Cola are partnering with organization such as Food Corps to become more educated about any negative impacts of their products, and are working with them to give back to the community and environment.
• Building a Community of Volunteerism: the culture at mission-minded companies is to give back to society in ways that align with the businesses core values; Burt’s Bees, a brand that is focused on sustainable farming, partners with organizations that educate on safe garden techniques and offers its employee’s paid time off to volunteer with such programs.
• Doing Well By Doing Good: businesses that imbed social and environmental causes in their mission and operating model have proven they can outperform financially while doing good for their stakeholders. TROSA, a non-profit supporting those battling substance abuse, has proven a remarkable business model responsible for 80% of its funding – relying on income-generating business over donations.
• Influencing Policy and Legislative Reform: The Honest Company is just one example of a mission-minded company that is working with coalitions and governments to put limits on the amount of toxic chemicals that go into our products.
• Tapping Emerging Capital Markets Via Impact Investing: While still a microcosm of the vast array of available capital, impact investing is rapidly moving towards mainstream. Authors Cathy Clark and Ben Thornley (The Impact Investor) discussed with other investors the rising demand among institutions and high net worth individuals to know that their money is “doing good.”

At Clarkston, we enjoy partnering with organizations as they work to achieve true green by balancing their passion and innovation for addressing these challenges with operating efficiencies and brand dominance that will help them expand their reach to consumers.