Recap: Sustainability Conference 2023

Sustainability took center stage with local businesses and community leaders at the Raleigh Chamber’s inaugural Sustainability Conference. More than 250 participants heard stories of corporate environmental sustainability from some of the region's largest employers.

Speakers from Lenovo, John Deere - Turf Grass & Agriculture, and SAS provided an overview of their corporate sustainability goals, stressing that sustainability is a priority for the world's largest companies and will remain as such for the future. Next, representatives from NC State, FUJIFILM Diosynth Biotechnologies, SAS and Wake County Government were on a panel unveiling a new initiative being convened by the Chamber called the Business Sustainability Roundtable (BSR). If you’re interested in learning more about the initiative please fill out our survey.The conference finished with a keynote conversation between the Chamber’s CEO Adrienne Cole and the Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Michael S. Regan. Administrator Regan stressed that economic prosperity and sustainability are not add odds, and policy can both promote growth and preserve the environment.

The conference was full of information for both industry leaders with well established environmental commitments, and smaller companies that have yet to start their sustainability journeys. Here are some of the ideas from the conference:

Collaboration is key for companies and communities to be successful with sustainability goals. There is scientific consensus that climate change is occurring and that it is a result of human activities. Climate Change is one of the biggest challenges facing humans and part of the reason businesses and governments around the globe are searching for solutions to mitigate its impacts and reduce contributions to the crisis. All the speakers echoed the need for collaboration between industry and the public sectors to avoid any of the worst case scenarios. Some of the answers do not yet exist for large scale adoption, and new technologies will be needed. Continued dialogue between entrepreneurs, researchers, policy makers and business leaders will be key for communities to be successful in their goals.   

The speakers agreed that corporate sustainability goals need to be rooted in transparency and accountability. Company stakeholders are requiring organizations to show how they are going to achieve their goals. Additionally, there is a trend for industry to use third party verification organizations to validate their plans and provide standard benchmarking across sectors.One of those initiatives discussed is the Science Based Target Initiative. Transparency also allows businesses’ partners to plan, adopt or change their practices to continue to work with organizations adopting these frameworks.   

There’s a clear business case for adopting sustainability practices. Environmental, Social, and Governance (ESG) is becoming a norm among investors when evaluating a company’s performance. There is a growing demand among customers to adopt clear sustainability frameworks. Regulations, particularly in European countries, are mandating sustainability practices for businesses to operate in their markets. Employees are choosing and staying at companies that have commitments in clean energy, water conservation, waste reduction and more. What was once a luxury for industry leaders is becoming a necessary strategy for success in the global marketplace.   

Sustainability encourages economic opportunities. The transition to clean energy will require new technologies and services, which ultimately lead to new jobs. Additionally, more regulations are requiring companies to be responsible for every part of their supply chain, allowing opportunities for businesses of all sizes to expand into new markets. Problems like climate change elicit investments from both the private and public sector, which spur innovation. All these forces mean new jobs, investment, research and technology for the local economy.  

Local solutions are critical and will lead to the greatest impacts in achieving sustainability goals. Yes, company' strategies are coming from corporate locations that may not be in the Triangle, however in order for these strategies to be successful, they will require local sites to meet their targets. Additionally, priorities vary by region (ex: water in arid regions) and it will take local business and community leaders to develop the policies and technologies most suitable for their climates. An initiative like the BSR is a critical component for the region to continue to be a leader in economic growth and sustainability. 

This is simply the first of many conversations to come about sustainability in the business community. If you would like to stay up to date on the Business Sustainability Roundtable initiative, please fill out this survey. 


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