The Business of Sustainability

Can environmentalists and big business work together in solving environmental problems? Yes, if we can get over our mistrust of each other.

Many smart business leaders now realize that sustainability is good business. The opportunity is there for smart environmentalists to help shape the role played by corporations in advancing sustainability. But guess what? It doesn’t work to hold your breath until you turn blue. You have to make a good case to get business leaders to tune in and join your conservation efforts. The Stanford Business School teed up these issues and more at their just-completed program on Business Strategies for Environmental Sustainability. The program brought together an ocean conservationist (me), and people from around the world with a wide range of leadership jobs in business, environmental NGOs, government, and other sectors. We heard from a number of eminent Stanford professors in the business school and the sciences, and debated a wide range of business case studies over an intense one week program.

How do you make a good case for conservation action? Find the right person within a big business, somebody with an interest and the ability to make things happen. Ask about big picture goals, and do a lot of listening. Then dig deep into your conservation vision and try to find some alignment with relevant business goals. It won’t work for every problem, but it will work more often than you might think. At least that’s the evidence from case studies of Starbuck’s, Hayward Lumber Company, the Wild Salmon Center, and others.

The class was great, the venue was fantastic (beautiful and remote Fallen Leaf Lake, near Lake Tahoe), and the morning yoga classes were quite nice. If this sounds like your cup of tea, take a look at the course for next year. And tell course Director Bill Barnett that you heard about it on TreeHugger.com. Agree to blog about it and you might get a discount.

For more on the workshop, go to blogfish and related posts.

See also: ::The Climate's Changing at Business Schools, ::Sustainable Brands ’07 Conference: In New Orleans, ::Be More Than Green

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