In September, I moderated the opening panel at the Greenbuild Green Business Summit, where we discussed green business and where corporate sustainability is headed. An overarching theme was how more and more companies are recognizing and acting on the idea that what’s good for the planet is good for business.
“Doing well by doing good” is something that’s very important to USGBC and to Greenbuild—and this catchphrase is even more relevant today, in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic. What lies ahead means we have a responsibility to design a healthier, more sustainable and resilient future.
For USGBC and our members, that goal is at the heart of our work. Our members are leaders at the forefront of building sustainably through the LEED green building rating system. We don’t have to choose between sustainability, health and a thriving economy. The future will require all to thrive. That is why, going forward, we will prioritize our efforts to build people’s trust that their spaces are healthy and have a positive impact—not only on them and the environment, but on the economy at large.
To help build that trust, USGBC is positioned as the voice of green building on Capitol Hill and at the state and local level—as part of our healthy economy strategy, we are advocating for policies that support your business, such as funding for construction and renovation of public buildings and schools, tax incentives for energy efficient retrofits, and new ideas such as net zero energy and carbon goals for buildings.
LEED has always been an important part of companies’ corporate social responsibility (CSR) efforts, and today, the value proposition for LEED is higher than ever, as green building strategies provide a foundation that supports people and businesses and helps us adapt during a crisis.
To continue the Greenbuild conversation, I followed up with three of the Green Business Summit panelists, who represent a spectrum of social enterprise—a tech startup, an entrepreneur, a corporate sustainability executive and the head of an industry association—to learn more.
- Garry Cooper, Jr., Ph.D., Chief Executive Officer and co-founder of Rheaply. A leader in the circular economy, Rheaply enables organizations to share and sell physical assets and materials between colleagues and across networks on its modernized asset management platform. With Rheaply’s Asset Exchange Manager, users are empowered to fully reuse, share, sell or recycle idle fixed assets, ultimately enabling organizations to decrease procurement costs, storage costs and unnecessary waste.
- Sarah Paiji Yoo, CEO and Co-founder of Blueland. Blueland creates eco-friendly cleaning products to save money and space, without generating plastic waste. Founded on the belief that we shouldn’t have to sacrifice a clean home for a clean planet, Blueland shows that being eco-friendly is easy with innovative products that are convenient, effective and affordable.
- Roger McClendon, Executive Director of the Green Sports Alliance. The Green Sports Alliance is leveraging the cultural and market influence of sports to promote healthy, sustainable communities where we live and play. They are the environmentally focused trade organization for the sporting world.
Q: What do you view as the most important role businesses play in society or in their local communities?
McClendon: The most important role businesses can play in society and in their local communities is providing leadership by example and setting science-based sustainability goals and targets, along with providing progress reports. Leveraging their position in the community by engaging their employees and their supply chains, as well as driving their positive sustainability business impacts and sharing their progress publicly with their customers and stakeholders.
Cooper: We are in an unprecedented time where I think there is an obligation for businesses to step up in response to the lack of government leadership. We must, as business leaders, take action toward a zero waste future while also promoting equitable and inclusive policy change from within our own walls. We cannot continue to do business the way we’ve done business in the past. It’s encouraging to see many companies pledging the transition to a low-carbon economy and taking an integrated approach to environmental stewardship, but we need to see more action overall.
Q: What is an initiative that you couldn’t get off the ground, or that didn’t pan out like you expected, and what did you learn from that experience?
Cooper: We’re learning, as a company, that while some of our partners are committed to completely rethinking surplus resource management using our technology, many organizations have built out complex reuse schemes and procurement workflows that are hard to break. Rather than fighting against these “competing” workflows, we look for ways to supplement them through technology—to build greater efficiencies into these processes that already exist. To our surprise, the result has been more participation, connected sustainability and procurement teams, and a better understanding of waste streams and where opportunities for peer-to-peer sharing actually exist in the first place.
McClendon: The Green Sports Alliance became a signatory of the United Nations Sports for Climate Action Framework (UNFCCC) in April 2019 during our launch of our Playing for the Next Generation Campaign. We had some of our members join our effort, but we recognized the UNFCCC framework is a good first step because a more specific system is needed to measure and track real progress. We learned that many of our members and others cannot make commitments without understanding what and how to get there, as well as quantifying the benefits from a business vs. a philanthropic perspective.
Q: The pandemic has shone a light on many societal issues, including economic inequality. What is your company doing to promote equity and diversity?
Cooper: We are looking at how our technology can be a springboard toward economic growth and development within the cities in which we and our clients operate. For instance, how can resource transparency and cross-functional collaboration on our platform create more resilient communities? How can we create locally productive and inclusive organizations that thrive in the community? How can circular resource management create digital social innovation?
These are things we are trying to accomplish at Rheaply and are doing so through the adaptation of our platform as a local-to-local marketplace (L2L) and not just an intramural sharing tool. It’s been said that the construction and demolition (C&D) recycling alone creates 27,000 jobs a year—what would that figure be if we could successfully recycle the $300 million worth of valuable C&D resources that still go to waste every year? What about $62.5 billion worth of e-waste that gets burned or sent to landfill every year?
McClendon: The Green Sports Alliance just completed our 10-year anniversary, and we highlighted the social and environmental systemic injustices that we have all witnessed that was supported by many athletes, leagues and teams, along with their positive actions. Many leaders in the sports industry have taken a stand in our summit to discuss how to create awareness and fundamental change to create equity and diversity within the professional and collegiate sports industry.
We know it starts with accountability and leadership from businesses and governmental leaders, along with our community leaders. I look in the mirror, as well, and ask myself, “Am I doing enough to support an equitable and a just work environment?” and [know] that I can make a positive impact by recruiting, hiring, training, retaining and promoting diverse talent.
Q: What advice would you offer to companies that want to be more sustainable and socially responsible, but don’t know where to start? Also, how do you stay motivated to continue the work when you’re overwhelmed?
Yoo: My advice to those just stepping into the world of sustainable entrepreneurship would be to start before you’re ready! Most of the time, you’re not going to feel 100% prepared or 100% confident, but the unfortunate truth is, doubts kills more dreams than failure. If your idea is truly making our planet healthier and happier, we can’t afford for you not to try!
For those who have already launched their brand and want to lean into sustainability, my advice is to partner with those who are experts in their field and are able to guide you. For example, one of the biggest challenges Blueland has faced is making sure we aren’t too focused on one area of our mission, which could potentially lead us to do a disservice to the planet on some other metric. As a result, and from the beginning, we have partnered with Cradle to Cradle, which evaluates our end to end supply chain—from our ingredients and the materials we use to our various manufacturers—to ensure we are doing right by the planet at every step.
As for how I stay motivated, I feel so fortunate to live in a time and have a set of experiences that gives me the opportunity to create something meaningful that has the potential to make the world a better place. After having my first child, and now being pregnant with my second, I know that while I really love to work, if I’m going to spend so much time away from my family for my company, then I need to make it count and continue to develop products that encourage people to rethink how their purchases impact the planet.
McClendon: I would recommend contacting our team at the Green Sports Alliance and other resources that can help you! I would also recommend researching companies that continue to take action and make significant investment in demonstrating being a more diverse, sustainable and socially responsible company, beyond statements and words. Companies like Nike, Ben and Jerry’s, Patagonia, Clif Bar, NBA, MLB and more are helping to lead the way.
Cooper: Have clearly defined corporate goals and values. It’s not as easy to lose sight of social responsibility if you commit to change in writing. Second, companies can start today simply by listening and encouraging knowledge sharing and transfer between cross-functional teams, departments and employees. Setting goals won’t seem as audacious if they are shared goals across the team.