Symposium 2011 Summary
The Beard Institute held its annual symposium, Sustainable Business: Responsibility and Results on November 10, 2011 at the Fairmont Hotel in Pittsburgh, PA.
Breakfast keynote speaker Dr. Peter Senge, Senior Lecturer, Massachusetts Institute of Technology led the morning discussion with his focus on systems thinking. Dr. Senge stated that we must, according to W.E. Deming, utilize a "transformation of the prevailing system of management." He described our finite world of resources and our limits to growth. This idea comes in direct conflict with how almost every leader of a country, whether elected or otherwise, defines the success of the economy. Senge used the example of a box and talked about continual material growth in relationship to how much one can put in the box. Eventually, one runs out of space.
Senge stated that we must re-define growth and called this the "Beginning of the Beginning." The world must recognize that things are changing; and must step ahead (to work on what the collective world believes is coming). We must learn to collaborate across boundaries and manage whole systems; social, environmental and economic.
Alan Miciak, Dean of the Palumbo/Donahue School of Business served as moderator for our panel. The panelists included: Chris Park, Principal of Sustainability, Energy and Environment Practice, Deloitte, Zoe Tcholak- Antitch, Director, North America, Carbon Disclosure Project and Ted Senko, Global Chief Executive, Climate Change and Sustainability Services, KPMG. They spoke about how companies are addressing the issues of sustainability and the reporting structures of these activities.
All of the panelists talked about the fact that sustainability reporting is still mostly voluntary. Zoe Tcholak-Antitch mentioned that there are three important benefits as a result of the voluntary disclosures. First, they are global, so companies benchmark against their peers. Second, it is building trust, because it is voluntary. Third, companies are uncovering opportunities as far as risk and can address them. Dean Miciak posed the question as to whether the disclosure adds or mitigates risk. Chris Park felt that it can go either way. If a company exposes the risk, there can be litigation consequences, but if they don't expose the risk, there could be further complications down the road.
When asked about developing countries and their reporting, the panelists pointed out that the companies in these countries that are reporting are global in nature.
Ted Senko also mentioned that when investing in sustainability ventures, short term, long term and hard data should be analyzed. Companies must build information systems to measure the data and financial ROI is important.
The symposium closed with its annual Green to Gold Award. The Green to Gold Award is given in recognition of an American company that demonstrates commercial success in sustainable business practices. Jean Sweeney, Vice President, Environmental, Health and Safety Operations accepted on behalf of winner 3M. Ms. Sweeney talked about the principles that make 3M successful. Sustainability is considered every employee's responsibility and employees are given time and the permission to innovate. Life cycle thinking is incorporated into product and process design. 3M creates a strategy that balances social responsibility, environmental stewardship and economic progress.