Sustainable business and view from across the ocean

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Who is leading the way in sustainable development – European or American companies?

This is an open question, and the answer largely depends on who you ask. While American observers generally see the Europeans as being at the forefront of policy and action, many Europeans look to the West as America’s leader.

Of course, there is some truth in both points of view.

Last week, at the inaugural meeting of GreenBiz Executive Network Europe, we were relieved to see both points of view. An active conversation between a dozen and a half companies, gathered in a Parisian conference room a stone’s throw from the Louvre, revealed transatlantic reciprocity and interdependence.

The event, convened under the Chatham House rule, which means no names or affiliations can be revealed, brought together participants from Belgium, Denmark, France, the Netherlands, Poland, Switzerland, and the UK (as well as myself and two other US colleagues). , GreenBiz VP of Sustainability Dylan Ziegler and co-founder Pete May, as well as Laurie Gustavus, European Director of GreenBiz in Paris). Like its nearly 15-year-old US counterpart, the member-led leadership network promotes peer learning among corporate sustainability leaders.

It took about 30 minutes to refute our assumption that European firms would be discreet in asking questions and sharing solutions.

As we have learned, there are relatively few such groups in Europe. One possible explanation is that companies are thought to be more reticent than in the US about sharing their knowledge or asking each other for help. In the US, where many corporate sustainability initiatives are considered pre-competitive, it has become common for companies to open up to peers, even competitors, to share what they do, how they do it, and what they learn along the way. . Not so much in Europe.

But as we saw last week, there is a need for such interaction. Our initial assumption that the European business community would be more reluctant to use the opportunity to ask questions and share solutions took about 30 minutes on the first day to refute it. Under the leadership of Gustav, the conversation reached an impasse.

pragmatic and philosophical

The topics were very diverse, as is often the case at such meetings. There were mundane issues that we have long seen in American companies: employee training; attracting consumers; the role of advisory councils; advanced training of specialists in sustainable development and others.

And there were topics that are rarely discussed, some bordering on philosophy. Here are three of them (with thanks to Xana Maunze, our diligent host):

  • Natural Solutions for sequestration and mitigation of greenhouse gas emissions is becoming more common these days. But the Europeans seemed to be asking deeper questions. Among them: Are companies ready to set science-based goals for nature? Should biodiversity be a business priority? How can companies align “nature-positive” commitments with global goals? (Note: We will be holding a Half Day Nature Forum as part of the VERGE 22 conference and exhibition next month.)
  • Political participation and sustainability needs to be better aligned. Businesses need to involve politicians, not just associations, to push for policy changes that will impact sustainability. For sustainability leaders, this means using their circle of influence within the company to bring about change. The corporate secretary or risk, public relations, legal and other teams can be allies, depending on the organization.
  • The clash between sustainability and economic growth. How can companies grow and still claim to support nature? Where growth and rebirth coincide and contradict each other? How can progress in regeneration be measured at all, especially at the firm level? There is a need for a play on how this might work.

With respect to the last question, my friend, well-respected sustainable business pioneer (and former GreenBiz contributor) John Elkington, pointed out two sides of the “growth” conversation.

“Those who grew up in the sustainability industry grew up in a world where we are locked in a world of growth because we are going to 8 [billion]ten [billion]14 billion people,” he said. “Now you see how this consensus is crumbling, whether it is Japan or China, which has decreased from 1.4 billion people to 700 million by the end of the century. Thus, a slowdown in growth is coming.” The implications for companies in various sectors could be severe, he said.

As I said, from the pragmatic to the philosophical.

In the end, which continent has progressed further in addressing the challenges of sustainable business is largely debatable. Europeans and Americans — as on many other social, cultural, economic and geopolitical issues — are on parallel paths, facing strikingly similar challenges and achieving the same success. And generally moving forward at a speed that simultaneously feels faster than you might expect, but much, much slower than you really need to.

In this respect, we are all family.

Thanks for reading. You can find my past articles here. Also, I invite you Follow me on Twitter as well as LinkedInsubscribe to my newsletter on Mondays, GreenBuzzfrom which it was reprinted, and listen GreenBiz 350my weekly podcast co-hosted by Heather Clancy.

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