Editor’s note: As sustainable business operations go from “nice to have” to “must have,” companies seem to be more willing to talk about the business side of sustainability. How are their investments in environmental management paying off? At our Environmental Leader 2017 Conference earlier this summer, one of the major take-aways was that sustainability is increasingly a critical component of many corporate missions. Sustainability is seen as an opportunity rather than a risk to business growth, and the companies that focus on the so-called triple bottom line — economics, environment and social — are the ones that consistently do well by all standards. I asked some leaders in the environmental management space to reveal their tactics, advice and ideas on the sustainable business case. Here’s what they had to say.
Anheuser-Busch: Smart Agriculture, Alternative Energy Pay Off
“Through our various investments and efforts in water conservation, smart agriculture, and energy efficiency we’ve made strides in not only reducing our environmental footprint, but also supporting our bottom line over the long term. For example, water is a crucial ingredient in the brewing of the beers we all enjoy. Over the last ten years, we have reduced water use in our breweries by 48%. We also work closely with our farmers to reduce water use via smart-irrigation practices and water conservation measures. Our efforts have helped reduce the cost of our operations, saving us tens of millions of dollars in the past five years while also improving the quality of our products.
“More than 90% of our water use goes into growing barley and other agricultural inputs used in the brewing process. We believe collaboration is vital to sustainable outcomes, so we work closely with growers in the US and around the world, particularly by providing cutting-edge technologies. For example, we have developed and shared new barley varieties that improve quality and yields, while using up to 40% less water.
“Since 2008, we have reduced our operational energy costs in the US by more than 37% by using alternative forms of energy in our operations and at the wholesale level. In the past decade, renewable electricity generation has become cost competitive with other conventional electricity sources. We see renewables as crucial to building stronger and healthier communities as well as our bottom line.”
–Katja Zastrow, VP of CSR, Better World at Anheuser-Busch
AMLI Residential: Sustainable Approach to Real Estate Development Leads to Enhanced Asset Values
“Sustainability is good business when done right and done smart. In multifamily residential, a developer should consider a sustainably holistic approach that includes value adds for the resident, our buildings, and the immediate communities where they reside. Operating costs, and ultimately residents’ utility bills, can be reduced through LEED-targeted construction, as well as efficient HVAC, lighting, and water systems. These […] enhance both the resident experience and asset values. Efficient systems can go far to decrease the wear-and-tear (i.e., maintenance costs) on the property’s equipment and the overall power and water grids, too.
“Green buildings are also more resilient to environmental factors. Utility price increases, unpredictable power outages and other unforeseen events just don’t affect them as much as their less environmentally-friendly counterparts. Similarly, avoiding potentially harmful building materials promotes the longevity of our buildings and the health of residents who live in them. More frequent fresh air exchanges and non-smoking policies at sustainable communities add to the health benefits. Keeping residents safe and comfortable in their home is always top priority, but that need not conflict with our sustainable mission, nor erode the bottom line.
“Sustainability on the community level is often overlooked, yet is a by-product of any eco-conscious development. Adding green space and rainwater management features such as rain gardens or ponds have great civic potential at a low cost. These efforts provide scenic, natural amenities for building residents and the community at-large, while reducing the loads on shared, often aged community infrastructure, especially stormwater drainage.”
–Erin Hatcher, Vice President of Sustainability
Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Gardens: Demonstrating the ‘Beauty of the Natural World’ Draws Visitors
“We see more organizations embracing sustainability based on the benefits including business growth and good corporate citizenship, though we have enormous opportunities and – most importantly – a societal imperative to do much more. The topic of sustainability may seem well-established, but we are just beginning as a society to drive transformational collective change and impact. Being less bad is not good enough anymore. We have to do much more.
“Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Gardens showcases sustainability to the world in ways that inspire and educate: Modeling sustainability in demonstrable, significant ways allow others to discover the possibilities and tangible, quantifiable benefits that are available to them.
“Phipps’ Center for Sustainable Landscapes (CSL) is open to visitors year round. The CSL produces all of its own energy using sun and wind, manages all water on site, and more, demonstrating to guests not the just the feasibility, but the beauty of building in a way that celebrates living in harmony with the natural world. At Phipps, the beauty of the natural world draws guests, allowing us to fulfill our mission to advance sustainability and promote human and environmental well-being through action and research.”
—Richard V. Piacentini, Executive Director
Larta Institute: Telling Sustainable Stories May Increase Funding
“It becomes easier, at a time when [sustainability] is becoming a business strength, to stitch these stories together in a meaningful way. Frequently, [companies] have not been able to make a good argument for sustainability because they have been one-off ideas. Now [these initiatives] can be the real driver for sustainability. Those are becoming increasingly clear in a business context. Businesses and philanthropists who have been funding companies can now see that their investments are going to be more sustainable. It’s a trend.
“Corporate folks in particular are looking to establish business lines that may not be equivalent to what they’ve developed before in terms of business. For example, Mobil is building its own algae farms, to milk algae for biofuels. Regardless of what their prospects might be for extraction for fossil fuels, there is a real business case to be made to ensure a continued supply of fuel.”
–Rohit Shukla, CEO of the Larta Institute
WRI Business Center: Commitment to Circular Economy Captures Economic Value from Existing Materials
“The world is on a track to quadruple world GDP by 2050, creating opportunities for business, but also to triple consumption of natural resource… Without a change to current business models in which growth is predicated on selling more goods to more people, environmental stresses will pose increasing business risks and human costs.
“Innovative business models are being tested in several industries. For example, Ford recognizes emerging changes and opportunities and is launching a bike sharing service – a move that looks to sell mobility rather than products. The apparel industry too is exploring innovative business models; for example a recent Global Fashion Agenda call-to-action asks brands and retailers to sign a commitment to transition to a circular economy. The circular economy is seen not only as a way to reduce impacts on the environment, but also a way to capture economic value of materials already in circulation rather than creating new.”
–Deborah Drew, Research Analyst
“The hard truth is consumption is a critical issue for companies to be sustainable in the long term. Business models that rely on unchecked consumption and unlimited resources cannot last – they will be replaced by better models that deliver more value with the resources available. Right now, this issue is so uncomfortable that it often goes unmentioned in C-suites and Board rooms, because it requires a radically different approach.”
–Kevin Moss, Global Director