The Nelson Institute for Environmental Studies and the Grainger Center for Supply Chain Management hosted a lecture Thursday on sustainability-focused business and conservation.
Spectrum Brands chief sustainability officer Daniel Hutter and The Nature Conservancy senior supply chain fellow Caitlin Clarke led the lecture.
Hutter said societal awareness of sustainability has grown in current years. Companies big and small have been focusing on sustainability efforts, including product design, manufacturing and the distribution of products.
“There were consumer trends that were changing [in recent years], as well as retailers positioning their companies to be more effective in supply chains,” Hutter said.
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A key transition point to creating more sustainable businesses was the creation of a sustainability index, Hutter said. Through the sustainability index, big supply chain companies like Walmart can conduct science-based surveys to assess their level of sustainability.
Hutter credits the sustainability index survey as a way to grade a company’s performance, with improved survey scores indicating improvement in sustainability programs.
“[Sustainability index] surveys were a catalyst, but also a tool,” Hutter said.
Clarke said engaging with supply chains is important in working towards creating more sustainable businesses.
The Nature Conservancy works with large corporations, policymakers and the public as both citizens and consumers on sustainability efforts like land preservation, Clarke said.
“The Nature Conservancy has evolved from a land trust into an organization that works in all 50 states and around the world,” Clarke said.
Hutter and Clarke had different ideas on what an ideal sustainable business would look like in the future. Clarke said one of the most important aspects to take into consideration in forming sustainable business models is the state of the economy.
A great sustainable business would be centered around an industry which doesn’t have to focus on selling more products, Clarke said.
“We have an economy that is built on selling people more things all the time,” Clarke said. “I don’t think we can keep that up indefinitely.”
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Hutter emphasized the importance of considering the long-term business implications of sustainable practices. A sustainable business of the future would perhaps have a more decentralized structure and renewable energy components, Hutter said.
Both Hutter and Clarke agreed greater sustainability efforts could lead to higher profits by being able to accomplish tasks more efficiently. Blockchain technology will also aid in better sustainability in businesses, Hutter and Clarke said.
Ultimately, Hutter said companies are concerned about the long-term viablity of their business models, something which will play a major role in developing sustainable business practices.
“We live in a world where a lot of the things we take for granted are turning out really not to be,” Clarke said.