Three Reasons for Optimism: Sustainability Leadership in Detroit and Beyond

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By Ted Ferguson – President, The Delphi Group

I had the good fortune to attend the most recent Sustainable Brands (SB) event in Detroit a few weeks ago. The SB team and my colleagues at Delphi’s sister company, GLOBE Series, have been discussing how the two organizations might collaborate in the future, so I was eager for an inside look at their popular event.

Listening to presentations and walking through the exhibit hall, I was impressed at how big brands and corporate powerhouses –  including Starbucks, Google, Ford, Kellogg’s, and Proctor & Gamble – are making sustainability mainstream, despite what is currently happening federally in the U.S. It reminded me that there are many reasons for optimism when it comes to action on climate change and sustainable development. Here are my top three.

Reason for Optimism #1: Corporate leadership is flourishing

While at the SB event, I found it fascinating to see how companies are responding to consumer demand and framing their sustainability efforts in a time of massive social and political change in the U.S. There was an enormous emphasis on the importance of creating a social purpose at the heart of an organization. Employees – particularly millennials – are galvanized by organizations that do more than just make a profit. They want to feel connected to and part of something bigger.

Not surprisingly, there was also talk about the role of corporations in the social landscape. For example, Starbucks talked about its goal to hire a targeted number of refugees each year – which they announced almost immediately after Trump announced his proposed travel ban. Starbucks’ plan had been in the works for some time, so it just happened to run smack-dab into the new federal position. They’re taking a risk, but they were confident that they are on the right side of history. Plus, they need more people to make chai lattes.

Starbucks’ views were echoed by other corporations at the conference, many of whom were mission-driven and focused on how to influence consumers. This kind of leadership is mirrored here in Canada in, among other places, EXCEL: Canada’s Business & Sustainability Partnership*. As manager of the Partnership, I get to witness first-hand how many of Canada’s business leaders are making sustainability mainstream. Their current focus is on helping to better translate corporate social and environmental priorities into business value, i.e., the language of investors and boards.

Reason for Optimism #2: The financial sector is playing ball

At our recent GLOBE Capital conference in Toronto, senior leaders from government and the financial sector came together to talk low-carbon transition. Specifically, how to mobilize and accelerate the capital necessary to protect our communities, transform our infrastructure, and future-proof our economy. It was inspiring to see that titans of the banking and insurance industries are ready and willing to talk frankly about the challenges and opportunities associated with the transition, and – even more importantly – to be part of the change. I encourage you to look for the upcoming report on the key findings and recommendations that emerged from the Capital event.

Reason for optimism #3: We’re just getting started

As we touched on in our last blog, I expect that we’ll see increasing corporate commitment around meeting the carbon reduction targets in the Paris Agreement. Michael Bloomberg’s public-private coalition is one example of this. There are also many companies in Canada that are steadfastly moving the needle on sustainability all on their own. Companies like Delphi clients Canadian Tire, Loblaws, Enbridge and TransAlta, just to name a few. These companies want to be part of the solution, and so do many others like them.

A lot has happened in the last few months. What is most heartening is that, despite the challenges – and trust me, after 20 years of working in this space, I’m not kidding myself about those – there are also a tremendous number of reasons for optimism. There is momentum and there is leadership everywhere you look.

Ted Ferguson is The President of The Delphi Group. The Delphi Group assists GLOBE Series in producing the events, GLOBE Capital in Toronto and GLOBE Forum in Vancouver. For more information about The Delphi Group, please contact Ted directly at tferguson@delphi.ca. For more information on GLOBE Series or it’s events, please contact Claire Melanson at claire.melanson@globeseries.com.

*EXCEL: Canada’s Business & Sustainability Partnership

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