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30 Sep. 2011 | Comments (0)

Consider the following when your board next discusses sustainability: “More votes cast in @PepsiCo Performance with Purpose campaign than in the last US presidential election.” That nugget came out of the Sept. 26 panel on “How the Global Reporting Initiative (GRI) Creates Transparency & Shareholder Value” at the Commit!Forum at the Javits Center in New York City hosted by David Vidal, director of The Conference Board Sustainability Center. Those words actually came from a live Tweet from Entrepreneurs Foundation (@EFConnections) citing Michelle Greene, vice president and head of corporate responsibility at NYSEEuronext, who was on that panel, who declared that “sustainability is at the core of business strategy.” If you take anything away from Greene’s comment and Entrepreneurs Foundation’s tweet, it should be that sustainability is here to stay. And the main reason for that is that Corporate America is “businessifying” sustainability and sustainability reporting. “We’re seeing there’s a lot more ROI for doing this [sustainability reporting],” Greene told the panel. “You can quantify the ways [companies are achieving sustainability] and you can see there is greater value placed on these issues. You are seeing the ‘businessification’ of sustainability.” That last statement lit up the Twittersphere at the conference (#Commitforum) as Vidal pointed out the Dr. Seuss-like allusion. The point is that while sustainability has traditionally been confused with being green, it has grown to include corporate citizenship, philanthropy and a new global way of doing business. IdealistBiz IdealistNYC: UPS is rated #1 US company by carbon disclosure project. Tied w/three other bizes for #1 in world #commitforum. That tweet served as an introduction, of sorts, for Steve Leffin, director of global sustainability at the global delivery company UPS during the Commit!Forum panel. “UPS is an engineering firm, always has been,” Leffin said. “We like to measure things. We believe measurement comes before management. Measurement is best done when there’s a structure. GRI provides some of that structure [for us].” Leffin, whose company has been an early adopted of GRI’s sustainability reporting standards, said that UPS has started to see a return on the investment made in that area. “We got a 99 of out 100 on the CDP [Carbon Disclosure Project – an organization that measures climate change strategies of the largest U.S. corporations],” he said. “It’s not about the score. It’s about measurement. For example, we had a conversation about getting water off the roof [of a warehouse] and getting that into chillers [for our air conditioning unit.] “We also had Deloitte assure our [sustainability] report. We have a GRI letter of assurance. We have a process; we continue to evolve. You have to have a holistic concentration.” MeganDeYoung1 Megan DeYoung: #commitforum NYSE: one of the challenges is to get metrics right. That tweet summed up another point made by Greene during the panel discussion. “We’re seeing a mainstreaming of sustainability,” she said. “Even though we have this [solid sustainability reporting], we still don’t have the metrics right.” That’s an interesting statement when you consider that the NYSE Euronext announced in August that it became the first global exchange operator and technology provide to be carbon neutral. GRI, which was represented on the panel by its Chief Executive Ernst Ligteringen, recently put out for comment its latest iteration of its reporting standards (G4), which you can read about here. The Sustainability Reporting Framework provides guidance on how organizations can disclose their sustainability performance. It consists of the Sustainability Reporting Guidelines, Sector Supplements and the Technical Protocol -- Applying the Report Content Principles. The G4 standards are due to be published in 2013. The Conference Board Chief Environment, Health, and Safety Officers’ Council just this week released a Council Perspectives report, Environmental, Health, Safety, and Sustainability Governance: What a Difference a Few Years Can Make. [It is available free to members of The Conference Board by clicking here.] That report, which is based on a three-year survey from 2008-2010, shows that executive management attention and funding for environmental, health, safety, and sustainability (EHS&S) governance have grown markedly. Also, The Conference Board Sustainability Center is about to issue a report called Sustainability Matters. [To receive a copy of that report, drop me an email at]
  • About the Author:Gary Larkin

    Gary Larkin

    Gary Larkin is a research associate in the corporate leadership department at The Conference Board in New York. His research focuses on corporate governance, including succession planning, board compo…

    Full Bio | More from Gary Larkin


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