As most (if not all) of you know, conferences are a mixed bag in what they deliver. The larger they get, the more likely attendees are to come from a variety of backgrounds and sophistication levels. That tends to lead conference organizers to dilute the content so there’s something for everyone … and the effect for some in the audience is, “Wait, I already know this stuff.” We know, we’ve sat in those audiences. GreenBiz 17 was different.
For example, GreenBiz 17 saw one of Amazon’s first public talks about its environmental strategy. What was discussed may feel a lot like a no-brainer, but put into action by a global player like Amazon, it shows the impact that big business can have by making no-brainer changes.
Kara Hurst, the online retailer’s Director of Worldwide Sustainability, spoke in front of a packed audience, touting how Amazon now partners with a larger network of manufacturers to align shipping containers to more closely match product dimensions, which helps the retailer and the manufacturers decrease environmental impact. This move has helped to conserve more than 1 million trees and more than 160 million additional boxes.
And it went on: cleaner energy was a popular topic, as was the growing attention to making supply chains more sustainable, and also the exploration of what’s on the horizon for circular business models. Out of all of the excellent content, we saw three trends worthy of further mention.
There will be winners and losers in supply chain transparency.
As was noted by sustainability folks from Campbell’s, Asia Pulp & Paper and C&A Fashion Retailer, consumers are calling for supply chain transparency today, and not just in consumable and/or digestible products. They want ingredients that are traceable and manufacturing materials that are sustainable. This growing emphasis is leading to innovations under development now that will allow a consumer, through augmented reality, to simply scan a product and visually follow the product all the way back to its source. Competitor brands are working together on standardizing metrics and developing handbooks for suppliers all the way up the value chain.
The time for business to lead has arrived.
We seem to have full consensus that business will need to own a leadership position on energy and the environment. The notion manifested itself over and over again in mentions at GreenBiz 17 – PepsiCo’s recognition by the United Nations for committing to reduce its water usage by a meaningful percentage, Microsoft’s senior leadership speaking up on sustainability issues, as well as General Motors’ pledge that they are going 100% renewable. By internally committing and externally pledging, the time is now for companies to get more comfortable with telling their stories and recognizing the power of setting goals – more and more consumers are listening, even when they’re not actively looking for it.
The role of business in the circular economy.
Over the past few years, the phrase “circular economy” has gone from buzzword to part of the common sustainability vernacular, and lately it’s continuing the move towards mainstream – corporations are taking note of their role within the circular economy and starting to make this part of their core strategy. We heard from companies like Thread, which is sourcing plastic waste from some of the world’s poorest communities and turning it into fabric for Timberland’s shoes. And from Levi’s, where the sustainability and product development and sourcing teams are so tightly woven together that they impact sustainability across the entire supply chain. We learned from Ellen MacArthur that “we probably only know 2% of what the circular economy really is,” and with the universe of corporate responsibility continuing to expand, there’s a lot of opportunity for more companies to lead the way.