Yesterday I attended one of NAM’s new Leading Edge series of forums. The session was held in Chicago on the topic of generating real economic value from sustainability. In 20 years of working in the sustainability space, this was by far the best meeting on the topic I have attended. There have been good ones in the past, certainly. But those typically include folks (ahem, usually consultants) trying to sell the idea of artificially bulking up financial benefits of sustainability initiatives by using soft numbers and intangibles in the ROI.
That is exactly the kind of fluff that destroys the business credibility of sustainability – which we have written about and commented on to the SEC as well. In stark contrast to fluff, BS and soft value, the NAM panelists spoke to how they quantify the real dollars from their various sustainability initiatives. And I do mean real. No attempts at assigning a value to reputational damage or brand image, no estiamated avoided contingent risks. These were business initiatives that, oh by the way, also happen to fall within the scope of sustainability.
Yesterday’s gathering was set up in conversation style rather than a typical presentation, which allowed each speaker to discuss their approach to, or obstacles encountered in, a moderated topic. Speaking were representatives from Ecolab, Microsoft, Pfizer, BASF, Smithfield Foods, ArcelorMittal and Alcoa, with a wrap up from Subaru of Indiana.
One point that stood out came from Subaru, who showed the sustainability timeline for their manufacturing plant in Indiana, which began in 1994. Back then, they developed a business case for a particular project based on real dollars that was successful. By doing so, they set the foundation for future sustainability initiatives that probably would not have seen the light of day if the business foundation set in 1994 was unsound.
I’m not sure if NAM will repeat the session, but if they do we highly recommend attending. If you would like to convince them to hold it again, please send us a note and we will forward it to the NAM program manager.