Wisconsin Sustainable Business Council can help reduce risk and save money
The barrage of headlines about political and social upheaval around the world, economic uncertainty and climate change have a lot of people on edge, and are enough to make some entrepreneurs wonder how their businesses can stay afloat in such tumultuous times. But many enterprises do make it through rough patches, and a number of them thrive. How do they do it? By being adaptable, considering long-term consequences of their actions, keeping up with the times and embracing movements that offer long-term benefits.
One such movement in today’s business world is toward sustainability. Interest in green business practices has grown in recent years as company heads have seen that commitment to sustainability racks up a number of benefits. More companies are now focusing on what’s called the “triple bottom line,” measuring their success not only in financial terms, but also in terms of their impact on the environment and society. Many companies today are finding that an emphasis on sustainability helps minimize their risks and costs, grows their customer bases and keeps that triple bottom line healthy.
Committing to sustainability can help a company remain competitive because it attracts customers, enhances the company’s image, reduces the risks that come with environmental degradation, attracts high-caliber employees, and contributes to a healthier profit margin. It also gets the attention of investors. According to a 2012 report by PriceWaterhouseCoopers, sustainable investing in this country is growing faster than “conventional” assets under professional management. That same report also refers to a working paper from Harvard Business School, which revealed that leaders in sustainability experience greater return on assets and equity, less volatility and better stock performance.
Small business owners in this area who want to learn more about sustainable practices can find help in the Wisconsin Sustainable Business Council (WSBC). The WSBC, under the guidance of founder and executive director Thomas Eggert, not only promotes education about sustainability; it also recognizes businesses that use sustainable practices in their everyday operations with several annual awards and its Green Master designation.
The WSBC was formed in 2008 after students in Eggert’s sustainability class at UW-Madison began work on a project that would bring businesses together to share information about sustainability. That event, which drew more than 200 people, was the first Wisconsin Sustainable Business Council Conference, Eggert says.
At that conference, he offered to create a formal organization, on the condition that business owners would offer guidance. “I had 12 businesses that stepped forward,” he recalls, “and the Wisconsin Sustainable Business Council Board of Advisors was born.” The conference, which is held each December in rotating locations, features keynote speakers and breakout sessions. Past topics of discussion have included sustainable sourcing, workforce health and wellness, using sustainability to get through the economic crisis, waste management, customer engagement, business and the social side of sustainability, and many others. The choices of speakers and topics, it seems, is spot on – the conference attracts more attendees each year.
Drawing on input and requests from those advisors back in the early days of the WSBC, Eggert also created a website, wisconsinsustainability.com, dedicated to providing information about best practices for businesses that want to focus on sustainability. The advisors also requested that Eggert develop a program to recognize companies that follow sustainable practices, and he obliged by creating the Green Masters Program.
For many companies, the focus on sustainability stems not just from a desire to save money and conserve resources; it’s also viewed as a key component of a company’s ability to compete. “That was not the case 10 years ago, or even five years ago,” Eggert says. “In addition, investors and stock exchanges are pressing companies ever harder to assess and disclose sustainability issues that are considered material.”
Recognition like a Green Master designation or an award for sustainable practices is a good way for a company to show customers and investors that it takes sustainability seriously. Among the ranks of Green Master designees is Laser Pros International (LPI), a company based in Rhinelander that supplies laser printer parts and accessories. LPI achieved the Green Masters designation last December and is one of more than 180 businesses statewide to earn recognition from the WSBC for its sustainable practices.
In addition to the Green Master designation, the WSBC also presents annual Earth Day Business Sustainability awards, recognizing Sustainable Product of the Year, Sustainable Process of the Year and Sustainable Leadership.
Increasingly, business strategy is evolving to include sustainability practices. Regardless of whether companies directly address climate change, many are feeling its effects as more extreme weather events – violent storms, flooding or drought, for example – occur and shake up supply chains and business operations. Risks aren’t limited to climate change: Political and economic events, even in other parts of the world, can also have an adverse impact on business operations. As a result, sustainability is becoming increasingly important to companies around the globe. According to the 2011 Sustainability & Innovation Global Executive Study & Research Project from MIT, 68 percent of the organizations surveyed stated that their commitment to sustainability increased in 2010, up from 25 percent in 2009. More entrepreneurs are recognizing the vital link between successful risk management and sustainability, and are modifying their strategies to adapt to a changing world.
Business owners and professionals interested in sustainability will have a chance to share ideas and knowledge at the annual Wisconsin Sustainable Business Conference Dec. 3. The event will be held at the Harley-Davidson Museum in Milwaukee. For more information, log on to http://www.wisconsinsustainability.com/abouttheconference.