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Green Business: Business & Conservation Converge

February 17th, 2012 | Posted by Claire Sommer in Green Business | Green Shift

I had the absolute pleasure of attending a breakfast seminar this morning hosted by the Institute for Sustainable Enterprise at Fairleigh Dickinson University in Madison, NJ. Attendees represented the entire Sustainability space from big industry, academia, and research to innovative small businesses.

Helen Crowley, Conservation & Ecosystem Services Specialist for mega-conglomerate PPR (owner of Puma and Gucci brands, among others) presented a fascinating lecture called “The Convergence of Business and Biodiversity Conservation.” Link to presentation slides.

In a nutshell, if major corporations have all the money, and are responsible for significant ecological and environmental degradation, then it’s in everyone’s best interests for conservation supporters to work with them instead of in opposition. Crowley argued that this convergence of resources, research and responsibilities breaks new ground towards solving global environmental challenges.

In a truly lucky stroke for attendees, Crowley came to the breakfast after spending the last three days in NYC at a global Sustainability Summit hosted by consulting firm KPMG. She shared a link for the summit’s keynote report, Expect the Unexpected: Building Business Value in a Changing World.

This report offers thought-provoking analysis on 10 sustainability “megaforces” facing businesses in the next 20 years and the emergence of environmental cost accounting. (Required reading! Download it now!)

Moreover, it will be a foundation document for the upcoming June 2012 Rio+20 United Nations Conference on Sustainability.

Crowley raised enormously important questions about balancing human consumption with ecological preservation. What happens when an entire supply chain’s true environmental costs are measured and accounted for? How do you even do that? Is profit still possible? How can the conservation arena best create metrics to accurately calculate the value of ecological services? Who is responsible for the full positive and negative impact of  goods and services on a global scale?

In her work at sport apparel brand Puma, Crowley is starting to dig into those questions. She offered her company’s first Environmental P&L statement  as an example of how companies are moving in the right direction. Since this era of global impact transparency is just picking up steam, Crowley had few hard results to share with the group. She did, however, point towards solutions centered on innovative and improved processes, products, materials and sourcing.

I’m inspired by the emergence of integrated reporting–whereby quarterly guidance goes away in favor of longer-term projections and sustainable investments garner more weight. (See Reuter’s coverage of Vice President Al Gore’s Feb. 16 call for sustainable capitalism.)

As Drucker so famously said, “What gets measured, gets managed.” I’m all in for conversations that give companies strategic information they didn’t have before to improve people’s lives, the planet’s health, and business profits.

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