Echoing the pro-business message USGBC CEO Rick Fedrizzi touted at the Greenbuild 2015 opening plenary, the closing session featured four executives whose industry-leading companies have made sustainability a core part of their operations.
NPR President Emeritus Kevin Klose moderated the panel that included Anna Denell, head of corporate social responsibility at Vasakronan; Davor Grgic, Kohler CIO and vice president of sustainability; Jim Hanna, director of environmental impact at Starbucks; and United Technologies chief sustainability officer John Mandyck. The group discussed the green actions their companies are taking and how those initiatives benefit employees and clients.
Though each offered different measures of success — such as Starbuck’s 700 LEED-certified storefronts (set to jump to 1,200 in 2016) — all four stressed the human value of making environmental issues a central aspect of corporate culture. As Kohler’s Grgic put it: “People want to work for companies that are not only financially responsible but making a contribution to society.”
When asked by Klose what they would say to leaders at enterprises that are not embracing environmental social governance, Vasakronan’s Denell was blunt: “It’s simple. Be a part of this, or you will go bankrupt.” Mandyck supported the sentiment, noting, “We know that the number one jumping point from [United Technologies’] employment page is our sustainability page. Companies that don’t begin to do these things place themselves at a competitive disadvantage.”
If the business message was clearly made, so, too, was the call to greater public advocacy from closing speaker Joe Romm, editor of the popular environmental blog Climate Progress and a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress.
Romm, a climate expert and former U.S. Department of Energy acting assistant secretary, has been engaging in what he calls “environmental communications” for more than a decade and recently published the book Climate Change: What Everyone Needs to Know. Pointing out his experience that “stories sell, charts charm, and numbers numb,” Romm shared some of the infographics used in the book that he believes get the salient points of the climate change argument across to a lay audience. They included a simple graph showing how carbon pollution has ended the era of stable climate and a NASA study that dramatically illustrates how carbon emissions could increase the “dust bowl-ification” of the U.S.
“Everyone in this audience is doing more [for the environment] than most people,” said Romm at the end of his talk. “On Wednesday, James Cameron asked you to change your diet. Now I’m going to ask you to do one thing more: speak out.”