GreenBiz19 wrapped up yesterday. It was a great opportunity escape DC’s snowier-than-usual winter for a few days and connect with likeminded folks from across the country (and a few from around the world). There was the usual emphasis on transparency and traceability. And lots of talk about “framework fatigue” – too many different standards, certifications or principles to follow.
While I learned many interesting lessons about sustainability this week, three stand out for me as especially useful.
1. Leverage longevity. Several of the organizations highlighted during the conference are 50 to 100 years old or older – companies like Cemex, Kimberly-Clark and UPS, and nonprofits such as Environmental Defense Fund (EDF). Sustainability is part of their DNA. They’ve survived over decades with long-term thinking, innovation and adaptation. EDF, for example, used to have the informal motto of “sue the bastards,” but realized the value of partnership as a sometimes-viable and appropriate alternative for influencing change. Those of us in newer organizations can learn from and model our “elders.”
2. Sometimes when we push the system, the system pushes back. I work with several private foundations that believe and invest in systems change for addressing problems like poverty and racism. This conference was the first time I heard so many corporate leaders talking about systems change. And they were quick to share stories of resistance, unintended consequences and the need for unwavering commitment to wholistic thinking. There was more than one example of squeezing one part of a system to create a benefit – and having a negative impact pop up somewhere else in the system as a result.
3. Silos hinder sustainability – in our own organizations and in attempts to solve problems across organizations. This point may seem like old news, but I share it again here as a lesson for two reasons. First, we may all know silos are bad, but for some reason we still have them. And second, the conversations this week went beyond the fact that silos prevent sharing of information and ideas to highlight the blind spots, isolation and “echo chamber” or “bubble” effects that silos cause.
Were you at GreenBiz19 too? What were your takeaways?