It’s never a bad time to talk about the top business sustainability trends, but with Greenbuild coming up next week, it’s an even better time than usual. As we come up on the annual expo and conference, there are a lot of exciting developments and topics to talk about, so it’s hard to focus on just one sustainability topic impacting business today. Here are a few top things to consider:
Businesses are taking their commitment further. By now, many businesses have a sustainability component that most wouldn’t have had 10 years ago. That’s great news, but it also means most of the “old-school” sustainability initiatives, like waste reduction, recycling and energy conservation, are already being integrated into and managed by many businesses. So that means leaders are looking towards tackling the next wave of sustainability challenges and trying to find meaningful ways to contribute to sustainability beyond the low-hanging fruit. They’re looking at things like the materials that go into making buildings, office furniture, and the materials and chemical products used to clean, maintain and operate the building. We’ve come a long way from recycling programs and energy saving lights. Sustainability leaders in business are discovering new ways to leverage the value of sustainability in business to create built environments that encourage and promote human health and well-being.
Sustainability is being recognized as a wellness issue. If nothing else was said, or thought, or known about sustainability, it should be this: that there’s no greater purpose of sustainability than to protect the health and wellness of our future and current generations. As businesses get more involved in sustainable issues, they’re starting to recognize the importance of the indoor environment of their buildings and the things employees and customers are exposed to in the course of regular business. Once your building is built, what’s happening inside of it? What are people coming into contact with on a day-to-day basis? Healthcare organizations are at the very forefront of sustainability, because they’re invested in wellness, and other businesses can really learn a lot from them.
Education and expertise are key. One of the side effects of moving past the “basics” like recycling and energy conservation is that businesses don’t always understand the true science behind emerging sustainability issues like managing chemicals of concern in consumer products used in the built environment. For example, businesses have learned how to identify and clearly specify construction and building materials that have eliminated specific chemicals of concern to help them comply for LEED certification, but those same businesses are not as clear about how to identify products that contain chemicals of concern or how to specify safer products used in their building or business operations. Many companies are finding they don’t have the internal resources to advise their sustainability policies and practices, which is leading to increasing partnership and engagement with environmentally-focused non-governmental organizations (NGOs) to better understand the issues and the opportunities. Long-term, this might not be something they can rely on solely, and businesses will need to cultivate the right partnerships or even internal experts to drive these initiatives.
Everyone needs to be involved. This ties back into cultivating the right expertise and partnerships—sustainability isn’t something that businesses are keeping to a small committee or one or two designated people within the company. More and more, it’s becoming a cross-functional issue. From safety officers to human resources to procurement and purchasing, companies are finding that sustainability touches every part of the business, and the more cross-functional collaboration there is, the more effective and successful those efforts can be.
There are sure to be other great trends that come up while at Greenbuild, and I’m personally excited about the level of collaboration we’re already seeing as we approach the event. Competitors are meeting to work through challenges together, rather than competing with one another, and there’s a real recognition that no single organization can do this alone, and solve these greater issues alone, so it’s an exciting event to be part of. If you’re at the expo, stop by booth #3905 to introduce yourself and enter to win one of our special edition, multilingual Easy Buttons! I also hope to see you at session E03 on Thursday at 3:00 as I join fellow experts Mark Rossi from Clean Production Action and Chris Youssef from Perkins Eastman to talk about the emergence and value of Chemical Footprinting. I look forward to seeing you there!