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3 Takeaways from the US Chamber's Sustainability Conference

As I wrote about earlier in the week, the US Chamber of Commerce's corporate citizenship affiliate the Business Civic Leadership Center (BCLC) hosted their first environmental sustainability focused conference, in Las Vegas this week. The National R4 Conference was aimed at Business Leaders in Environmental Innovation.

In case you're wondering, the four R's stands for Revitalization, Reinvention, Resilience and Responsibility.

Many of the conference sessions and much of the dialogue centered on the second "R" -- and specifically how businesses can drive reinvention in the form of accelerating the pace of environmental innovation among the corporate sector.

Here are a couple of key takeaways from the conference that hopefully will spark an idea of two about how you can push your company to use sustainability as a key driver of innovation.

Don't overlook incremental innovation. As companies constantly seek to find new and innovative ways to be more sustainable it's important not to overlook the small steps that you can take that can have big impacts.

For example, UPS Director of Global Reputation and Management Sustainability Lynnette McIntire explained that while UPS is deploying various alternative fuels to power their fleet, they are also exploring ways to improve fuel efficiency by reducing the weight of their delivery trucks by utilizing lighter weight plastics. These plastic trucks, which weigh 1,000 pounds less than their traditional trucks, achieved fuel savings of 40 percent -- comparable to reductions with some of UPS's alternative fuel vehicles.

Take your cues from your customers. How should companies prioritize their R&D investment in environmental innovation? Listen to what your customers are asking.

For example, Gary Niekerk, Director, Global Citizenship at Intel explained that at Intel their focus on designing more energy efficient chips was due in part to interest from some of their largest enterprise data center customers. Those customers recognized that more energy-efficient chipsets could help reduce energy use and ultimately energy costs at increasingly larger data centers.

Look for partnership opportunities on the local level. Businesses have readily embraced national public private partnerships like EPA's Energy Star program, which now counts 18,000 US businesses as partners -- but there may be other opportunities. Local organizations and local chambers of commerce can be an untapped way to open the doors for environmental innovation.

A great example of a regional collaboration in the environmental space that was highlighted at the conference is the work of the St. Louis Regional Chamber and Growth Association (RCGA) and their St. Louis Climate Prosperity Project that strives to "unite the St. Louis regions economic competitiveness with sustainability.

The goal of the RCGA is to encourage sustainable business practices, foster clean-tech industries and grow a robust green workforce. Currently the RCGA is running the St. Louis Green Business Challenge aimed at helping local St. Louis area companies takes their first steps toward sustainable business practices. What a great way to drive environmental innovation among local businesses!

While big companies seem to get the lion's share of attention and media focus for their environmental innovation efforts, they certainly haven't cornered the market on innovation, and it was refreshing for me to hear about the numerous local public partnership opportunities taking place at the state and local level.

The BCLC is going to be putting out a white paper in the next few weeks with additional key learnings from the R4 Conference. You'll be able to get it from the BCLC website or check out their blog.

Based on the comments to my earlier article from the R4 conference, it seems there is still a healthy skepticism about whether the Chamber of Commerce is serious about green. What do you think?

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