While You Were Out: Our Take on the Sustainability Stories of the Summer

Summer Vacation

Image via Laura Menenberg

Summer can be a hard time to keep up with the news – vacations, travel, and business planning for fall can take your attention away from the front pages. Before summer slips away, don’t miss these sustainability stories from summer 2012 that could affect your business in 2013.

LEED Gets Lobbied

In June, the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) announced that it would delay releasing the LEED rating system’s next version after pressure from a wide variety of interest groups.  Those groups included building owners, concerned that the new version would be too stringent or difficult to document; business interests like the U.S. Chamber of Commerce; and manufacturers of products panned by the new version of LEED.

Originally planned for release in 2012 – and so named “LEED 2012” – USGBC changed the name of the new rating system to “LEED V4” when it became clear that much would remain unsettled when 2012 ends.

The same groups that pressured USGBC to delay release of LEED V4 have pressured the U. S. General Services Administration (GSA) to abandon LEED as a requirement for GSA owned and rented properties, arguing that this requirement gives USGBC and LEED an unfair monopoly on green building programs operated by the Federal government.

In these challenging times, at least USGBC can take pride that being viewed as a monopoly — and having large monied resisting them — means they must be moving forward in their mission of “market transformation” after all.

Even Corporate Sustainability Is About Winning Hearts and Minds

Released in July, the new study, “Making the Pitch: Selling Sustainability From Inside Corporate America,” reported surprising insights from sustainability professionals in some of America’s largest corporations – giants like McDonald’s, AT&T, DuPont, and Hilton Worldwide.

When asked to identify the most important predictor of success in their sustainability programs, most respondents cited the ability to work well with others, not subject matter expertise, as the key attribute.  “Prior to taking the job,” the study reported, “the majority (78%) said they had assumed that subject matter expertise would be the most important predictor of success.  Once on the job, however, all respondents (100%) said interpersonal skills proved to be most critical.”  The ability to quantify value also took a jump in importance once respondents were actually on the job.

Whether you’re embedded in an organization or a consultant working for one, it’s vital to articulate the business value of your sustainability programs, connect with others inside the organization, and engage them.  Without those steps, all the subject matter expertise in the world won’t go very far.

Climate Change Keeps Changing

Here and abroad, it was a roller coaster summer as far as the climate is concerned.  In May, the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) reported that 2011 was the hottest year on record in the United States.  And all summer, “the worst drought in over 50 years in the U.S. Midwest” threatened crop outputs, endangered livestock and strained transportation on the Mississippi River.

Internationally, the European Space Agency found that the Arctic lost 50% more of its summer sea ice than predicted, suggesting that “global warming, triggered by rising greenhouse gas emissions, is beginning to have a major impact on the region.”  The potential consequences include the region failing to reflect sunlight back into space, thus heating it more quickly, resulting in rising ocean temperatures and increased methane emissions, which also expedite global warming.

If you’re searching for the good climate news of the summer, it could be that U.S. greenhouse gas emissions dropped to their lowest levels in 20 years.  The sources of the drop weren’t all good, though: increased natural gas use (which creates other environmental issues) and a slow economy using less energy.  The real good news: despite these discouraging factors, the primary reason that U. S. greenhouse gas emissions fell was identified as reductions in our use of coal.

Starting Businesses with the Triple Bottom Line in Mind

Social entrepreneurs, who build businesses that actively improve society as their core business, are finding growing support around the country.  New start-up incubators and accelerators — from Impact Engine in Chicago to Fledge in Seattle — provide investment, mentorship and advising for new ventures that focus on social issues ranging from clean drinking water and renewable energy to community-based business funding and literacy education.

The Silicon Valley Global Social Benefit Incubator recently drew 19 social entrepreneurs from around the world to a two-week event hosted by the Center for Science, Technology and Society at Santa Clara University.  Pairing Silicon Valley veterans with social entrepreneurs solving critical problems like subsistence farming irrigation and locally-made biofuels means that some of the world’s most urgent issues can receive some of the world’s most successful entrepreneurial skill.

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