Beyond the Buzzword: Sustainability in Business at the Yosemite Sustainability Conference

This past week, I was fortunate to not only attend but be a part of the 1st Yosemite Sustainability Conference
 in beautiful Yosemite Valley. This three day conference was packed full of information and presentations around climate science. Topics ranged from the park’s geological history relating to atmospheric concentrations of carbon; climate communications, including how park interpreters interact with visitors around the topic of climate change; and sustainability practices in business operations. The SBC GJ Yosemite 2014 12presentations on sustainability practices were particularly interesting because of the strong examples in business represented, including Delaware North’s Green Path program, the North Face’s Virtuous Cycle to protect & conserve, and PepsiCo’s sustainability programs around watershed stewardship, sustainable agriculture and waste reduction.

These organizations, among others, presented unique methodologies and organizational-specific commitments that help guide their corporate responsibility ethos around triple bottom line outcomes – to achieve economic, environmental and social goals at the same time. Although the tools and priorities were different they all contained similar practices and assurances, including the measurement of responsible & sustainable business practices, honestly & fairly reporting on the results, and striving to adopt innovative ways in order to improve their systems. I was impressed, if not surprised, by the level of sustainable and responsible practices these multi-national corporations and public agencies actively engage in and, from the bottom to the top, are committed to.

Instilling sustainable business practices into an organization of any size can be difficult, but never impossible. Corporate executives, small business owners, and public service officers have an increasing opportunity to incorporate sustainable practices and triple bottom line metrics into everyday organizational processes and procedures. These opportunities, when embraced as business-as-usual practices, can create an internal culture where core sustainable strategies can reduce operational costs through energy & water conservation, increase employee productivity with fair labor practices, and enhance environmental quality through waste reduction and supply chain management.

As Newton once pointed out – “For every action there is an equal and opposite re-action”. Because of this third law of motion, I believe that it is very difficult for any business to be truly 100% sustainable. However, responsible businesses take sustainability seriously and actively strive to have a minimum negative impact on environmental and community assets. A responsible and sustainable business seeks to restore, protect & enhance natural resources, build community cohesion, and support fair labor practices. I was pleased and encouraged to spend time with these public and private business leaders who strive every day to make their products, services and commitments to their community as sustainable as possible. I look forward to the next Yosemite Sustainability Conference where I hope to see even more business leaders taking on thoughtful, long term strategies of practice.