When I talk about sustainability, people lean in for some common themes. Here are four:
1) There is a real sustainability process for companies to follow
2) It’s time to get collaborate and innovate together
3) We must develop a “unified sustainability mindset,” that incorporates the environment and society
4) It’s vital what we collaborate with individual communities to sustain their resources.
I was a speaker at the Environmental Leader Conference (ELC) in Denver, on June 23. I started my conversation with what I call “group therapy” and said, “Let’s look at how bad things are.” I shared the notion that between increasing water scarcity, population growth, climate change, health crises, commodity crunches and political uncertainty – sustainability thinkers have a lot to deal with. What’s worse, we have not fully realized how to learn from each other’s situations and solutions.
Not surprisingly, all of these challenges can seem insurmountable. I told the story of a key moment in 2006 when a friend and colleague asked me, “Is it worth it? Are we just wasting our time?” This was a turning point for me professionally. I realized my friend was convinced our sustainability objectives were unachievable, and was doubting that our stream of work was worthwhile. After all, why continue be a sustainability advocate if it’s all going to hell in a handbasket anyway?
My goal is to inspire companies…
I could see everyone really connected with those questions; there was catharsis in that moment. Then I turned the conversation around to where I’ve arrived. I am an optimist today because I can see, and have seen, how sound process, working in collaboration, not isolation, and innovating together will lead us down a path on which we can survive together. And more than survive, we can thrive. My goal is to inspire companies to know there is process for developing and executing strong and effective sustainability programs – and they can make that process fit and work for them. Let’s have a look at sustainability process and partnership now.
The audience in Denver was especially interested when I moved on to how to apply process to sustaining water resources. When I showed a system, I saw enthusiasm. When I spoke in terms of enhanced risk management, there was more excitement for process. The response I observed was, “There’s a way to think about this. There’s a way to actually do it!” As we approached the notion of sharing process, I showed the traditional reactionary risk management models. My point was that these models were built to solve impending crises. Hence risk management is not stewardship – but you can’t have stewardship without risk management. So let’s look at that in-between: How do you go from old-fashioned methods of risk management to full on stewardship? In posts to come I’ll talk further about our journey for water – and for other resources.
…risk management is not stewardship – but you can’t have stewardship without risk management.
At ELC I reviewed each step of the water stewardship process. The establishment of an effective water stewardship program requires: A) clear governance, and B) good operations. Clear governance is the ability to make important decisions and communicate them to get the required and desired outcome. Good operations include your ability to act on and implement decisions made. You can have the greatest program in the world, but if you don’t know how to operationalize it, how to keep it alive, you’re doomed to fail.
I suggested we look at what process and partnership mean for water stewardship. I was encouraged by the number of people who came up to me after my speech to connect. They asked questions about the challenges our organizations face, the journey we’re on and how to look for partners. They wanted to talk about what we could do together. I was excited and encouraged because the central theme of my commentary was collaboration. Collaboration will be a central theme in these posts as well, including great solutions that come from partners working together to get out of the box, be creative and translate ideas into new activities. One partnership that has worked for us is the CEO Water Mandate, where we work with other business leaders, civil society organizations and governments to advance water stewardship and meet the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals.
I am inspired by seeing what other people are doing and realizing they face the same challenges and goals NWNA does. So it was terrific to have people at ELC say, “I’m interested in collaboration. How can we collaborate? What does that look like?”
Move beyond group therapy – is what we need to do together. In my next posts, look for: A Unified Sustainability Mindset and Collaboration with Communities.
Let’s make water our purpose.
Nelson Switzer is one of Canada’s sharpest minds at finding opportunities and reducing risks for companies that are striving to operate with a greater commitment to corporate sustainability. Nelson is the Chief Sustainability Officer with Nestle Waters North America.