11th June 2012
Speakers from Forum for the Future, the International Centre for Corporate Social Responsibility (ICCSR) and KPMG each gave their take on the sustainability agenda and how businesses could adapt to future pressures.
Speaking from Australia and starting the session, Simon Wright of the ICCSR, based at Nottingham University’s Business School, said that water was the next big sustainability threat:
“We know that water is going to be a really significant issue, with two thirds of the world’s population predicted to be living with water scarcity or water stress by 2025 – that’s not very far away.
“Water will affect every angle of our lives – from the obvious uses of drinking, cleaning and sewerage, to energy generation and particularly fossil fuel generation, which requires masses of water, to food production. Food in particular could be a bigger issue for the UK as we are not food independent, whereas for example Australia grows enough food for 40 million people, but only has a population of 24 million.”
Ben Ross of sustainable development charity Forum for the Future urged businesses to put board support at the top of their sustainable business plans and said there were four key parts to developing such plans:
“Firstly, the business model clearly must be commercially successful as part of a sustainable society. It must also put the practical steps in place to take the organisation from where it currently stands to this long-term, sustainable platform.
“This also means that the organisation must have the quality internally to allow it to adapt and deliver; it must be flexible and have a strong innovation process. Finally, any plan is of course ultimately about results, and businesses must find a way measure the impact of their plan right across the sustainability spectrum”
Third speaker Ben Wielgus of KPMG, the professional services firm which provides sustainability auditing and assurance to many of the biggest blue chip companies, shared some of the learning by Balfour Beatty during its own assurance process, and the history of sustainability reporting:
“We’ve been giving sustainability assurance since 1995 when the first sustainability reports came out. Then it was all about providing some credibility on those sustainability reports; there was a lot of criticism of ‘green wash’ around at the time.
“What is happening now, and what Balfour Beatty has embraced, is that organisations want more than the ‘tick in the box’ for their spend. So it wasn’t so much an assurance opinion Balfour Beatty wanted, but someone to work with the business all around the world and ensure progress was being made against its Sustainability Roadmap for 2020. This strategy is one of the best that I have worked with, but it will still take years to embed.”
The event was held as part of Balfour Beatty’s first global Sustainability Month. Andrew Edlin, General Manager, Environment & Sustainability at Balfour Beatty Utility Solutions said:
“This was a fantastic session which brought together some of the leading thinking on sustainability, from global mega-trends, to the embedding of sustainability within an organisation and its measurement and assurance.
“For me I think the key message from the event is that there needs to be a move away from the kind of ‘deep green’ approach to a view which looks at sustainability in a wider social and economic context. This is something the Balfour Beatty is very clearly trying to tackle with our 2020 Vision, which incorporates the three elements of environment, communities and markets.
“The other key thing for the utilities sector, and construction more widely, is that we can no longer be happy to benchmark ourselves just against our immediate competitors. It’s a brave thing to do, but I think it’s absolutely right that we look at how we can match the Marks & Spencers and the Unilevers to really drive sustainability forward in our industry.”
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