et_21I attended the EcoTuesday event last night in San Francisco.  It has grown into an engaging and more mature “sustainable business leader” networking event and last night’s panel included Elliott Hoffman, Founder of The New Voice of Business, which promotes economic, social and environmental sustainability in the United States; Felicia Marcus, Western Regional Director of the National Resources Defense Council and John Knox, Executive Director of Earth Island Institute.

The moderator was Steven van Yoder, author of Get Slightly Famous.  One unique aspect of EcoTuesday is that everyone gets in a big circle and has the chance to introduce themselves, their organization and 5 words about what they are passionate about. Besides my puppy, what I am passionate about right now is helping organizations and corporations with a commitment to sustainability  design and implement new green initiatives that make a BIG green impact with both environmental and economic benefits.

Key messages I heard on the panel included:

Felicia Marcus and John Knox: NRDC and Earth Island Institute brought the NGO perspective to the panel. Felicia spoke about the risks to reputation and brand organizations take when partnering with the business community. And that NGOs need to manage the possibility of “greenwashing”–when companies contribute a small amount of funding toward a program and then make huge PR claims while not taking any effective internal actions to change.

While organizations like Environmental Defense and NRDC take more of a partnership role with business, neither spoke about one of the other strategies available to push businesses:  campaigns that attack brand.  Are the days of Greenpeace and Rainforest Action Network campaigns over?

Elliott Hoffman:  New Voices of Business promotes the approach that a healthy business climate requires a healthy society, and that both must operate within natural limits. They support innovation, creativity  and the sharing of ideas for meeting the Triple Bottom Line of people, planet and profits.

One of the key messages I heard from Elliott is that companies who do not integrate sustainability into their business model will not survive due to growing expectations  from investors, consumers, employees and other stakeholders.  He sees that we have two choices right now–invest 1% of the GDP in clean tech and other solutions to respond to climate risks or be prepared later to spend up to 15-20% responding to the crisis. He didn’t really address the role of NGOs in moving business into action, but he did warn us not to underestimate the political clout and power behind “business as usual” in DC.

He is attending the Fort Baker Leadership Summit today at Cavallo Point, the new green hotel at the foot of the Golden Gate Bridge. It’s mission is to bring together leaders from buisness, government and the nonprofit sector to tackle barriers to progress and co-design a sustainable future for California.  Today is the third of a series of meeting and it will be interesting to see what final product or strategy the group has developed.

I have been involved with various multi-stakeholder dialogues, including the California Environmental Dialogue (CED), whose mission is similar to the Fort Baker Leadership Summit. There are always challenges of moving from talk to action with these partnerships:

  • Trust: It can take time and patience to build trust and relationships between environmental and business leaders. For the new Fort Baker group, I wonder if three meetings will be enough to build the new partnerships necessary to create lasting change.
  • Membership:  Who is sitting at the table?  Who is missing to be able to successfully implement significant change?  This is always a challenge to create a group small enough for deep dialogue yet diverse enough to identify creative new solutions that have enough support to fly.
  • Moving talk into action:  In the past month in the Bay area alone, there have been three key business-environment gatherings:  the Ceres conference, Turning the Tide and the Fort Baker Leadership Summit. I think the key challenge for all these wonderful gatherings is how to turn inspiration and new ideas into effective action.
  • Systems Change/Leadership skills: Do today’s leaders have the leadership and organizational change skills necessary to implement radical changes?
  • Funding:  And the final challenge of today–how to find the financial support to launch  new businesses and programs. The answer that emerged last night-we are back in the era of “boot strapping”.

Deborah

Sustainability Consulting Bay Area

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