There is Economic Opportunity in Sustainability

Photo of Matt Lockwood Matt Lockwood · August 26, 2019

Last week, Business Roundtable announced a new statement of corporate purpose. Among the commitments outlined, the association pledged to “protect the environment by embracing sustainable practices across our businesses.”

This was a huge moment for the business world and highlights the tension between purpose and profit that many businesses struggle to balance. 

Today, sustainability carries a costly connotation. In the eyes of many business leaders, to be sustainable is to sacrifice profitability. 

The truth is though, there is economic opportunity in sustainability, and the most successful companies have found ways to build business models around sustainability.

On August 16th, I was honored to speak on a panel at the Fifth Annual Sustainability and Circular Economy Summit hosted by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation. Joined by Dan Lambe, President of the Arbor Day Foundation, and Charles Redding, CEO of MedShare, a nonprofit humanitarian aid organization that sources and delivers surplus medical supplies to communities in need, we spoke at length about how the future of sustainability lies in the hands of business leaders who are finding new business models that balance this tension. 

I’ve had some time to reflect on our conversation, and I wanted to take some time to highlight a few of my takeaways. 

LGND animated video for the Arbor Day Foundation’s Time for Trees initiative

Sustainable Initiatives Are No Longer Enough

It is no longer enough for a company to engage in sustainable initiatives; businesses across the globe need to find ways to make sustainability their business model. 

MedShare is a perfect example of building business around the circular economy and their sustainable impact is remarkable: the organization has diverted 14 million pounds of medical supplies from local landfills, delivered $220 million worth of life saving medical supplies to communities in 103 different countries, and trained over 7,000 biomedication engineers, technicians, and end-users.

Another key point here is that millennials–who care deeply about sustainability–already represent 35 percent of the workforce today. Those businesses that are modeled around sustainability are able to attract and retain top talent with their story.

Data Storytelling Makes Complex Issues Relatable

I recently spoke with my former colleagues at Google about their new Environmental Insights Explorer, which analyzes Google Maps data to provide insights that will accelerate climate action plans. 

Data alone cannot spur action–you need a story to frame the data in a way that allows people to relate. Data visualization is just one of the ways LGND helps our partners tell their stories. On our panel, Dan Lambe agreed. The Arbor Day Foundation’s Time for Trees initiative uses data storytelling to rally the business community around their ambitious sustainability campaign: to plant 100 million trees across the globe. Using equivalency data, the foundation frames the estimated environmental impacts in ways that anyone can grasp [ie: measuring tons of chemical air pollution by Goodyear Blimp units].

LGND CEO Matt Lockwood speaking on panel at U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation

Human Impact > Doom and Gloom

The business community is motivated by the potential impact sustainability can have on people and communities, not the environmental catastrophes it could prevent. 

“It can’t be all doom and gloom anymore,” said Dan Lambe during our conversation. 

Dan and I discussed the work Jonathan Foley is doing at Project Drawdown to shift the global conversation about climate change from defeatism to one of possibility, opportunity, action, and empowerment. As storytellers, it is important that we frame these conversations and campaigns around economically viable solutions and show how these solutions have direct impacts on people across the globe. 

When people see themselves as part of a larger narrative arc bending towards a solution, they are much more likely to do their part and get involved. 

Business-driven Sustainability Solutions

The government can be an important ally in promoting sustainability, but the business community must also provide a bottom-up push in order to achieve the necessary pace and scale to create a true sustainability movement. At LGND, we’re working with many organizations to tell new stories that convey not only the environmental impact but also the tremendous economic opportunity that sustainability presents our country and the world.

Learn More About LGND’s Work in Sustainability 

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