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What were your top lessons learned in 2012?

<p>Sustainability leaders discuss the highlights of 2012.</p>

As 2012 comes to a close, GreenBiz asked executives from a range of companies and organizations to reflect on the past year and look at what lies ahead.

They obliged by telling us about their accomplishments, frustrations, lessons learned, their thoughts about the biggest issues of 2012 and what they think will drive sustainability in 2013.

A few big themes emerged: the failure to make significant progress at major global conclaves -- Rio+20 and the Doha Climate Change conference in particular -- the lack of urgency and action from policymakers on climate change, and the need for stronger, more transparent standards and ratings systems to meet increased consumer, investor, and corporate demand.

Here's what they said when we asked:

What were your top lessons learned in 2012?

Amy Hargroves, Manager, Corporate Social Responsibility, Sprint Nextel Corporation:

• Our practical and results-oriented approach to CR is of interest to many other organizations.

• The projects with the greatest impact are often those with the least incremental cost, but require a substantial time commitment.

• You can be extremely successful in improving the sustainability engagement of your suppliers with a very focused assessment tool and meaningful follow-up. You don't have to embed your requirements into contracts or use a big stick. Get top officers engaged to share why sustainability should be important to your suppliers and offer them guidance to meet your criteria.

Neil Hawkins, Vice President, Global sustainability and EH&S, Dow Chemical Co.:

We need the right public policy environment to make fast progress.



Chris Coulter, President, GlobeScan:

• Putting a price on carbon may be closer than we thought possible.

• 'Softer' things like trust and collaboration are more important sometimes than performance.


Angela Nahikian, Director of Global Environmental Sustainability, Steelcase:

• Lasting change takes time. Framing progress over the long view is critical to successful embedding.

• Customers care a lot more about sustainability in their decision-making than we even imagined.

• The cultural and customer hooks for sustainability are not what we imagined them to be -- they are more core to our purpose.

Mark Lee, Executive Director, SustainAbility:

The depth and pervasiveness of the gap between public satisfaction with corporate and political results in terms of sustainable development leadership and the enduring expectation that it is exactly those institutions people most expect to lead in the future. The emerging and deepening hope that multi-sector collaboration will play a critical role in delivering positive sustainable development outcomes. The potential identification and emergence of a consumer segment (we label them 'Aspirationals') as interested in consumption/status/lifestyle/brands as they are social and environmental impact/progress. Hope for sustainable consumption?

Peter Madden, Chief Executive, Forum for the Future:

Don't wait for governments The green movement should do more inspiring and less scaring.



Bridgett Luther, President, Cradle to Cradle Products Innovation Institute:

• Everyone has hit the wall on eco-efficiency and is looking for answers -- and for what's next.

• There's still too much greenwashing going on.

• How do we jumpstart the innovation engine?

Terry Yosie, President and CEO, World Environment Center:

• There is an increasing need to educate regulators on the advancing technologies and practices that support sustainable development. Government authorities are often disconnected from a number of vital initiatives and knowledge generating activities, and they must play a more creative, vital role in establishment new policy frameworks that include but also go beyond traditional regulation.

• The digitization of physical infrastructure can help transform traditional industries in such sectors as power generation, water management and maintenance of transportation systems such as bridges and highways. Data analytics and the installment of smart systems can create breakthrough learnings that leapfrog performance and save money.

• It's time to focus on the preparation of the next generation of business leaders by directly engaging the private sector and NGO community and other thought leaders together with leading business and engineering schools. In a large number of instances, students are not being taught how to integrate sustainability concepts and practices into their career development pathways.

Leisha John, Americas Director of Environmental Sustainability, Ernst & Young:

How important it is to ensure our employees are bought into our environmental sustainability efforts. As a professional services firm with 45,000 employees across the Americas, it is our people’s commitment and passion that drive our efforts. Whether it‘s our employees who traveled to Brazil as part of our Earthwatch Global Ambassadors Program to collect data on how climate change is affecting the rain forest or our EcoCare teams who led recycling drives in their own offices, our people are the engine of our firm’s sustainability efforts.

Beth Shiroishi, Vice President, Sustainability & Philanthropy, AT&T:

We learned just how important (and hard!) it is to use social media in a compelling way when talking about sustainability. Don’t let that 140 character limit fool you— successfully sharing sustainability messages through Twitter and other social media platforms is much more time consuming and challenging than you’d think.


Aron Cramer, President & CEO, BSR:

Sustainability must deliver business opportunity. Systemic solutions are our only hope.



Image of Class of 2012 cap courtesy of iQconcept via Shutterstock.

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