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Friday, October 31, 2008

Sustainability on the Road

I have just returned from attending and speaking at the CRO/Sustainpro fall conference in Chicago. Some great speakers were there including Dr. Peter Diamandis, founder of the X-Prize, and T. Boone Pickens. I particularly appreciated that the conveners, Jay Whitehead and Elliot Clark, used a quick fire Q&A approach that kept panelists on their toes and maintained the momentum.

As many of my readers are in the ICT space, I will note that T. Boone Pickens attended by video link. The sound quality was not perfect but I thought his presence on a big screen was superior to him being at a distant podium and more than compensated for the sound issues.

My panel included the sustainability/CSR officers from MacDonald's, IBM, FedEx, Orbitz and Campbell Soup. We addressed broader issues including the impact of the current economic crisis, European/US contrasts, what we hope for from the next administration and where sustainability is going next. I heard consensus around most issues, including that the economic downturn reinforces the importance of sustainability and the need to move our focus more onto the longer term.

On the topic of transatlantic differences, I was asked what might help US companies catch up given the estimate by CRO magazine that they are 3-5 years behind British and European companies in sustainability. I did not fully accept the premise that US companies are behind. On the social sustainability front, there are significantly different approaches, but I would argue that neither is behind nor ahead. On the environmental front, while I agreed UK and European countries were doing things 3-5 years ago that American companies (generalizing) are doing only now, I don’t think that means it takes that long to catch up. I see UK and European companies more likely to accentuate climate change as their rationale for taking action on energy than their counterparts in the USA - which accentuate energy efficiency. As I noted in my post "The Objectives Matter", I think stated reasons for taking action on energy make a difference to the specific actions taken.

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