These days, news reports paint a grim picture of the prospects for addressing the global climate crisis. Yet, leading organizations around the world are actively engaged in evaluating the environmental and sustainability consequences of their operations and aggressively implementing programs and initiatives to stem potentially harmful impacts on our environment.
And, from their perspective, the future looks much brighter!
That’s perhaps the key takeaway from the 2019 UL Environment and Sustainability Forum. Held in mid-September in Cambridge, U.K., the forum brought together more than 100 environment and sustainability experts and practitioners to collectively discuss and explore the dynamic landscape of environmental and sustainability efforts in the 21st century.
The forum’s packed, two-day agenda featured keynote presentations and highly interactive breakout sessions that explored a wide range of environment and sustainability initiatives, with a particular emphasis on effectively measuring and reporting outcomes from these initiatives.
Here’s a summary of some of the forum’s highlights:
- The importance of cross-sector collaboration – The opening panel brought together representatives from various organizations to discuss how each organization is working toward and collaborating to achieve the UN Sustainability Development Goals. Ivana Beddall of British international retailer Debenhams shared how her company works with partners throughout their supply chain to support the goals of SDG 17. Florian Reuter of the True Price/Impact Institute discussed the institute’s mission to create a common language for discussing sustainability initiatives through the development of standards and training. And Ian Heptonstall of Action Sustainability gave visibility to his organization’s efforts to share sustainability best practices among collaborative groups of businesses.
- Decoupling natural resource use from economic activity – In an inspiring keynote address, Corli Pretorius, deputy director of the UN’s Environment World Conservation Monitoring Centre, painted a stark picture of the long-standing connection between global commercial activity and the environment, as well as our growing dependence on the use of natural resources, also described as natural capital. Pretorius then presented several case studies showcasing how leading organizations in a range of industries can build natural capital considerations into their strategic risk assessments and concluded with projections on the potential impact on the global environment through the effective decoupling of natural resources from economic growth and human well-being.
- Rethinking sustainability leadership – Adam Crossley, director of Environment and Strategic Development at Skanska U.K., discussed his company’s efforts to lead in decarbonization efforts in the construction industry. For Crossley, sustainability leadership is not achieved by taking a one size fits all approach. Instead, it starts first from understanding your organization’s mission and principles, then identifying and prioritize the initiatives that will allow you to make the biggest impact. Crossley also shared details on a number of sustainability success stories to which Skanska has contributed its knowledge and expertise, with specific data on how those engagements have contributed to the reduction of carbon and emissions.
- Sustainability, in-depth – The forum also featured several seminars and workshops that provided a deeper dive into specific sustainability issues facing key industries and organizational functions. Specific sessions focused on the unique challenges in the retail and construction industries, as well as a session exploring methods for integrating the impact of sustainability efforts within conventional corporate reporting mechanisms.
Grant French of UL’s Environment and Sustainability group based in the U.K. believes that an important aspect of the forum was the opportunity for participants to engage with perspectives across industries, and to collaborate on how to accelerate progress on sustainability.
“We were delighted to have world-leading practitioners attending the forum,” French said. “The opportunity to actively engage with peers gave everyone the chance to examine their own efforts in a larger context while existing clients also gained valuable practical insight on how to apply learnings within their systems.”
But the most important and valuable insight gained by forum participants may well have been a genuine excitement about the future of sustainability efforts.
“Working independently, it can be difficult at times to see the value of your sustainability efforts, especially when contributing to goals on global issues,” French said. “People left the forum with a feeling of optimism about what we’ve collectively achieved with sustainability efforts so far, as well as a real excitement about what we can achieve in the future!”
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