An environmental business case (editorial)

Getting the environment onto corporate agendas is no easy task.

Doom-and-gloom forecasts of a world so polluted that there is no one left to sell products and services to won’t alone usher in a change in corporate thinking. For more businesses to join the environmentally friendly fold — and soon — it’s reasonable to expect a solid case for the bottom line will be needed.

Fortunately, there is a growing cadre of executives who view sustainable growth strategies as a necessary part of corporate planning. And they want to be involved in shaping these strategies rather than having government force them upon the economy.

Companies need to work with government instead of fighting it, says Chris Henderson, CEO of The Delphi Group, an environmental consultantcy that helps business develop strategies. If firms don’t get involved in adopting environment-friendly policies and approaches, government regulation — born from public pressure, informed or not —is going to be the price paid. It’s that desire to find workable solutions rather than suffer onerous regulation that should appeal to bottom-line concerns, Henderson says.

It means developing partnerships with government instead of reacting to threats of punitive legislation. It requires leaders to search for innovations that help the environment. Henderson strongly believes expecting government to be innovative is a mistake — new ideas and strategies should be coming from the private sector.

There are signs of encouragement. The potential for corporate change was on display at the Globe Foundation’s recent Environment and Energy Conference held in Toronto at the end of January. The meeting brought government and agency representatives together with business leaders and the heads of associations. Founded in 1992, the Vancouver-based foundation is a non-profit organization created to help firms turn environmental challenges into business opportunities built around solutions. Henderson sees the conference as a small step forward — while helping to jumpstart urgent discussions on sustainable growth there is a long road to travel to achieve change. But talking about the problem is where the movement for sustainable growth must begin. To help affect change the conference included a track on new technologies and innovations that can create cleaner industries.

Where does HR fit in? For an HR professional this means considering the environment when scanning the business horizon. It’s a philosophical shift that should dovetail nicely with human resource concerns. For example, healthy workplace programs become hypocritical if the community your workers live in is unhealthy. And there’s a strong recruitment and retention argument that gives companies in cities with cleaner environments an edge in the talent hunt. It’s the reason people prefer Northern California over Pittsburgh. More and more potential hires are also considering corporate ethics, including environmental policies, when making choices.

And, Henderson says HR is going to have to find ways to develop and recruit a new breed of corporate government relations experts if HR is to source the people with the appropriate skills sets needed to work in partnership with government.

Change won’t come easy, but when it comes to the environment, business as usual will eventually mean no business at all.

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