I've long believed that the private sector has an important role in addressing critical social and environmental challenges.
Like everyone else, most business leaders want their companies to be good neighbors and respected members of the community -- commitments long reflected in corporate social responsibility policies.
But today, the drivers of environmental action go deeper than philanthropic motives, or doing the right thing. They also go beyond regulatory compliance. For a growing number of companies, "going green" is now a core business strategy. Those companies committed to minimizing their environmental footprints and factoring the value of nature into their business plans are the ones that will lead their industries in earnings growth, productivity, innovation and employee satisfaction in the decades ahead.
At the World Environment Center's (WEC) annual Gold Medal Colloquium last week, I joined a number of business leaders who "get" this point. This year WEC recognized IBM for its commitment to integrating environmental sustainability throughout its business practices. Past honorees include Coca-Cola for its far-sighted efforts to protect the watersheds it depends on for its business and Nestlé, which has embraced the concept of Shared Value -- looking beyond short-term financial gains to create long-term value for both shareholders and society.
What do companies leading the way in environmental sustainability have in common?
Just as successful businesses are making conservation a core part of their business strategy, conservationists should adopt as a core strategy collaborating carefully with businesses to lend expertise and help speed up the adoption of sustainable practices. Collaboration does not mean, however, that companies should expect a free pass from environmentalists. Watchdog NGOs that push companies to do the right thing play an important role in exposing bad practices and using publicity to drive change. Even companies leading the way on sustainability efforts still have a long way to go. There, no doubt, will be occasions when honest attempts between environmentalists and companies to collaborate will prove disappointing.
But to not work with companies -- whose footprints and influence are vast -- to improve environmental sustainability is to miss an essential opportunity to help them make better decisions, understand the value of nature and create real conservation gains around the world.
In my view, we are in the midst of a defining moment for the private sector. Great Chief Sustainability Officers, working with strong CEOs and collaborating with smart conservation organizations, have the opportunity to demonstrate that healthy lands and waters are good for nature, people and business.
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