Environmental Initiative - Home

Posts Tagged ‘Institute on the Environment’

How can Businesses move to Action on Sustainability?

November 6th, 2017

You’ve thought about it. You’ve talked about it—a lot. You’ve included it as a bullet point on hundreds of PowerPoint presentations. But for many senior leaders, sustainability has been a subject that’s outside of the normal scope of business—too difficult to wrap your arms around and too all-encompassing to manage effectively.

Multiple goals, multiple disciplines

While smart businesspeople understand the core components of running a profitable enterprise and can easily connect the roles of finance, marketing, and operations, they can get tripped up when trying to manage to sustainability. Why? One reason can be that while each successful business function maintains its own unique competencies, they are all ultimately aligned around a single metric of maximizing shareholder wealth. But when you take on the issues of sustainability, not all profits are equal. How you seek profitability becomes influenced by a wide variety of complex issues, ranging from removing toxic substances in products and reducing greenhouse gas emissions across diverse supply chains to increasing workplace safety, advancing community development, and incentivizing diversity and inclusion in your supplier network.

Not only are there more things to measure, but managing sustainability requires new and different skills and capabilities to find profits amid stakeholder-driven trade-offs between sustainability objectives, shifting social and environmental impacts across geographies and organizations, and long-term performance targets spanning decades. Without the increasingly requisite business acumen of sustainability, it can feel like just a collection moving targets that are difficult to measure and rarely actually accomplished in any real sense.

Many organizations are investing in their employees and systems to measure, report and improve sustainability performance. It’s widely reported that more than 80% of large companies are reporting on their sustainability goals and performance, a niche activity just five years ago. And, it’s not just reporting. More than 300 global companies, representing $6.5 trillion in market value and CO2 emissions of 158 million cars annually, have committed to set “science base”’ emissions reduction targets in line with the United Nations Paris Agreement to limit global warming to less than 2 degrees Celsius.

Companies don’t commit to targets lightly. It’s no surprise that within companies like 3M, General Mills, Target, and many more, the sustainability function is growing and increasingly being integrated into the strategies and operations in order to successfully meet sustainability goals.

Secret sauce

wind turnbineInvestments in sustainability are admirable, but when it comes to the bottom line, they still need to payoff. Finding where your company’s opportunities to integrate sustainability reside isn’t always easy, but it can lead to cost advantages, risk reduction and preferred status among key customers. An example of this in action can be seen in firms’ efforts to manage sustainability in their supply chains. Companies want to know the sustainability impact of their supply chains, and much of my research focuses on helping them uncover these upstream risks and opportunities.

For the past three years, we have been working with environmental non-profits and large food companies to map high-impact agricultural inputs through complex food systems’ supply chains. This work highlights that the strategies most effective in reducing emissions or managing water impacts for Cargill are very different than those available to Smithfield Foods or Tyson Foods. In the case of Smithfield Foods, our models and tools have helped inform the company’s recent commitment to reduce its total CO2emissions by 25% by 2025. Targeted strategies to meet this goal–and the increasing requirements of large downstream retailers–are being implemented across feed procurement, energy and manure management, and in their operations and transportation.

Finding your way to action

With this range of challenge and depth of expected outcomes, how can senior business leaders navigate the multiple and winding pathways of sustainability from talking points to action plans? One excellent place is with the new eight-day Comprehensive Executive Program on Leading Sustainability.

To describe this program as “multidisciplinary” does not begin to do it justice. A partnership between the Carlson School and the Institute on the Environment, this course began by the gathering of input from seventeen regional firms with a proven record of sustainability effectiveness. The course itself will be presented by business practitioners from leading companies and professors from top universities, all of whom are actively shaping sustainability best-practice on the ground.

It’s an opportunity to move from thinking about sustainability to uncovering ways you can effectively act on it within your own organization. To present meaningful and robust living case studies, we’ve gathered leaders from companies including Target, General Mills, Cargill, and 3M to help shape and enhance this course, ensuring a highly inspirational, educational, and practical experience. Participants will have the opportunity explore and create sustainability frameworks and analyses through exercises, homework, and group work. We’ll work with you to find ways to prioritize sustainability aspects appropriate and applicable to your own organization, and to open doors to meaningful and prosperous action toward sustainable practices.


You can join Carlson School of Management January through April 2018, for a program that can help propel your organization toward a step-change in sustainability leadership. Learn more here. https://carlsonschool.umn.edu/executive-education/courses/leading-sustainability

Tim Smith

POSTED BY:

Professor, Sustainable Systems Management, Carlson School of Management

A Year and 30+ dedicated organizations later…

February 23rd, 2017

The Minnesota Sustainable Growth Coalition is just over a year old, but already we’ve come a long way. More than 30 businesses and organizations now form a business led partnership that harnesses each member’s expertise to advance the next frontier of corporate sustainability – the circular economy.

Together, the Coalition has designated three strategic priorities for regional transformation and are actively educating on what a circular economy can do for Minnesota and the region.

NEW MEMBERS

The Minnesota Sustainable Growth Coalition is a business-led effort that also includes key public and nonprofit entities within its membership. This cross-sector representation is essential to advancing the circular economy. In June of 2016, the Coalition publicly announced itself as a 27 member strong collaboration. Since then, six additional organizations have joined the effort, including:

 

 

With these six additions, the Coalition expands to just over 30 members. Each new member brings a different perspective and a wealth of experience. This knowledge continues to better position the Coalition, allowing the group to more effectively work on advancing the aspects of a more circular economic system. With each new member, we get closer to realizing our vision.

CIRCULAR ECONOMY EDUCATION

Our members have been quick to explain and project circular economy concepts. Jessica Hellman, Director of the University of Minnesota’s Institute on the Environment (IonE) and Coalition member, recently penned an op-ed in the Pioneer Press demonstrating the value of transformative, far-reaching sustainability efforts.

Ackerberg, a recent addition to the Coalition, is the first commercial real estate company to join. Shortly after entering the group, they shared more information on the value they see in collaboration through a piece by Finance & Commerce.

And finally, the Coalition as a whole was featured in the Harvard Business Review as part of the 9 Sustainable Business Stories that Shaped 2016. Number nine focuses on the circular economy, with special mention of the Coalition.

OUR THREE PRIORITIES

Soon after the Minnesota Sustainable Growth Coalition launched, Environmental Initiative convened members to select priority areas for their work. Three areas of focus quickly emerged from these conversations including: 1) advancing clean energy, 2) transforming organic waste into resources, and 3) greening grey infrastructure.

Members selected clean energy as the initial priority for leadership and collaboration. Coalition members recognize a circular economy can only exist if is powered by 100% clean, renewable energy. It’s a big commitment, but we aren’t taking it lightly. Over the past six months, members have developed a clean energy work plan, have secured initial funding to support that work, and have begun taking actions that support increased access to renewable energy resources.

While a lot of progress has been made already, much more is ahead. You’ll be hearing a lot more from us as we continue to make progress on our clean energy work plan while also digging deeper in our greening grey infrastructure and organics focus areas.

Sam Hanson

POSTED BY:

Director, Sustainability Program

Meet Maddie Norgaard

October 11th, 2016

Environmental Initiative has always been an organization deeply rooted in partnerships that work collaboratively to strategize around complex environmental problems. It’s one reason why we convened the Minnesota Sustainable Growth Coalition (MNSGC), a business led effort focusing on the advancement of the circular economy.

To better shape MNSGC actions, the University of Minnesota’s Institute on the Environment (IonE) and other member organizations are working with a graduate student to research practical, circular economy applications. Her research will influence the direction and project goals and how MNSGC will function within the Midwest.

So, without further delay… Meet Maddie Norgaard! Maddie

Maddie is a first-year student pursing a Master of science, technology, and environmental policy at the Humphrey School of Public Affairs. Maddie currently holds a B.A. in environmental studies from the College of Saint Benedict.

In summer 2016, Maddie participated in Summer Institute on Sustainability and Energy in Chicago where she was inspired by lessons in circular economy, industrial ecology and systems thinking. She is eager to explore these concepts further and help MNSGC discover opportunities for collective action.

Her work will help coalition partners advance the next frontier of corporate sustainability through the circular economy. Maddie will be working closely with Environmental Initiative as well as member organizations to conduct her research. We’re excited to have her, and we’re eager to get started! Learn more about Maddie »

Rachel Dupree

POSTED BY:

Communications Associate

GreenBiz Forum 2012: Optimistic Outlook with a Healthy Dose of Reality

January 27th, 2012

On a frigid morning last week, I joined 200 national and local business leaders at Best Buy’s LEED-certified headquarters for the Minneapolis stop of the three-city GreenBiz Forum 2012 “tour.”

For those unfamiliar with GreenBiz, they are a national group that provides resources and learning opportunities to help companies integrate environmental responsibility into their operations.

(more…)

Ellen Gibson

POSTED BY:

Senior Program Director
Environmental Initiative - Home