There are many, many obstacles companies face on the road to sustainability, but they all have one thing in common: A world-changing level of innovation will be necessary to overcome each of those obstacles.
Nearly a dozen companies, including the likes of IBM, The Coca-Cola Company, CH2M Hill, Johnson & Johnson and General Motors, have joined forces to identify the innovations needed to create the next generation of sustainable practices in traceability, infrastructure, water management and logistics.
The companies have partnered with the World Environment Center (WEC) to form the Innovations in Environmental Sustainability Council. Charter members also include Boeing, The Dow Chemical Company, F. Hoffmann-La Roche AG, and The Walt Disney Company.
"When you look at the companies coming together under this council, they have been implementing sustainability in their individual businesses for some years now, so I think what they're looking to do is take sustainability to the next level, in terms of best practices and looking to further differentiate themselves in the marketplace," said Terry F. Yosie, WEC president and CEO.
The idea for the council came from IBM, which approached WEC several months ago about launching the initiative.
"What drove us is a recognition that it's going to be innovation that drives demonstrable improvement in the environment and sustainability, not tweaking around the edges, not some one-off cool green gadget, but fundamental systemic innovation," said Wayne Balta, IBM's vice president of corporate environmental affairs and product safety.
Council members will meet four times this year, with each meeting addressing one of four sustainability issues:
• Traceability: The council's first meeting, being held Feb. 7-8 in Orlando, will focus on managing traceability issues in the value chain, which may varies depending on section, but may include chemicals, extracted materials or food ingredients.
• Sustainable infrastructure: "How do you implement sustainability across various kinds of infrastructure that companies have?" Yosie said, citing buildings, pipelines and fleets as examples of corporate infrastructure.
• Water management: An intensifying issue, with climate, food and energy dimensions. It would be useful to focus on water management, Yosie said, not from the 50,000-foot strategy level but from an operational perspective.
• Logistics: "This is an area that doesn't get a lot of public attention but is vitally important to the global economy," Yosie said.
At this point, Yosie and Balta said, the council will deliberate amongst themselves over these four key challenges but will share their learnings through publications that will be made available to a wider audience.
"Our hope," Yosie said, "is that we'll have something concrete to discuss in the spring."
Light bulb image via Shutterstock.