Thoughts from SAP Sustainability in Business Summit

Back from a bit of a blogging hiatus!

I happened to be in Toronto a couple of weeks ago and was able to attend SAP Canada’s first Sustainability in Business Summit.  There were almost 300 attendees for full day of presentations, workshops and networking – all interested in learning more about how to make business more sustainable.

Starting the day was Dr. David Suzuki who had some very interesting and provocative points. In his introduction, he noted the very fact of his invitation was a sign of progress. Ten years ago he would have been barred at the door! He also mentioned that “the environmental movement grew up fighting, but all fights create losers. The task now is to build bridges” and events like the summit are a great step toward that.

His most inspiring points, for me, was a reminder that “the way we see the world shapes the way we treat it. Do we see homes or real estate? Sacred groves or sources of timber and pulp? Living veins of the planet or river power?” This is not to say we cannot make use of the Earth’s resources, but we need to be conscious of the choices we are making. And to remember that these are in fact choices – the society we live in is one that we collectively invented. And things we invent are things we can change.

The closing speaker, from Stewardship Ontario, illustrated this exact point. Stewardship Ontario are responsible for dealing with recycled materials from all manufacturers in Ontario. Currently manufacturers pay 50% of the cost of recycling and this will soon increase to 100% as part of a concept called “Extended Producer Responsibility”. The message to manufacturers now becomes “You made it. Consumers buy it. When they’re done with it, it’s your problem, not theirs.” Of course, this cost will ultimately be passed on to consumers.

As David Eaves mentioned in conversation at Vancouver Change Camp – consumers are the only people who really pay in the end. This signals a move to a world where externalities are brought into the cost and price structures of business. If consumers will be forced to pay the “true” cost – of energy, recycling, waste reclamation, GHG production, etc. – of a product, we will be well on the way to a more sustainable economy. “Disposable” fashions and products built with planned obsolescence will no longer be affordable in mass quantities. Consumer behaviour can change based on economics. Growth in business will have to come from other, more innovative business models. And that is a good thing.

Many thanks to Delvin Fletcher, Cory Coley-Christakos and the rest of the SAP team that made the event happen. I look forward to continuing this important conversation.

I’ll close with a quote from Goethe that David Suzuki used to start his keynote:

Whatever you can do or dream you can, begin it. Boldness has genius, power and magic in it. Begin it now!

And I promise not to have such a gap before my next post!

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