Last week, we hosted an intimate lunch at the Fortune Brainstorm Green conference in Laguna Niguel to get the perspective of Fortune 500 firms on the future of Corporate-NGO Partnerships.
Our Vice President of Corporate Partnerships, Gwen Ruta, kicked off the lunchtime conversation with an interesting insight: “20 years ago [when we partnered with McDonald’s], it was heresy that an NGO would partner with a company. Nowadays, nearly every large business has an NGO engagement strategy. Could it be that tomorrow’s heresy is that companies share environmental innovations and best practices with each other to solve environmental problems?”
This probing question elicited some really astute ideas from the lunch attendees, and was too rich to include every detail here, but here’s a snapshot of some great comments that emerged on ways that Environmental Defense Fund might scale its impact:
- “The key is to determine which areas of sustainability are truly competitive and which can be shared openly amongst companies. For example, if key green technologies are expensive, it’s to the benefit of all companies to work together to bring down those costs.” Read more
Here’s a business conundrum for you: energy efficiency saves serious money, cuts carbon pollution, requires low tech solutions, and is a known quotient, having been around since the 1970s. So why are so many companies still not taking the necessary steps to identify and eliminate these inefficiencies?
“What we learned in Econ 101 doesn’t hold true when it comes to energy efficiency – the notion of perfect markets, where information flows freely and people are maximizing their value,” notes Environmental Defense Fund’s Gwen Ruta. “Instead, it’s as if companies across the globe are walking around with a hole in their pocket with coins dribbling out nonstop.”
How is it that smart companies who are vigilant about monitoring the bottom line, stock price, customer satisfaction and much more let this wasteful “dribbling” occur? This question launched a robust discussion at a Fortune Brainstorm Green session last week titled “A Trillion Dollar Opportunity: The Hunt for Energy Efficiency.” Gwen Ruta was joined on the panel by Gretchen Hancock, Project Manager for Corporate Environmental Programs at GE; Bill Weihl, Google’s Green Energy Czar and Beth Trask, Deputy Director of EDF’s Innovation Exchange. GE and Google have made huge strides around energy efficiencies in past years, with still more work to do on the horizon and still some barriers of their own to break down.
So what are the main barriers to energy efficiency and how can companies try to overcome them? Read more
What a whirlwind this conference has been – some new information, some of the same old stories – but many opportunities for interesting discussions.
One interesting discussion I followed was the Innovations Review 2009: Green Advances for a New Economy panel hosted by Gwen Ruta and Fortune’s Julie Schlosser with guests from Bon Appetit, REI and Verizon (several other companies with innovations featured in the Review were in the room).
Check out my first attempt at “live tweeting” a play-by-play for highlights.
The CEO of Bon Appetit took the prize for most illustrative quote, “We just aren’t flying fish around any more,” in reference to the company’s sourcing of local food, per its Low Carbon Diet.
Gwen asked the panelists how innovation could spread throughout a sector, the consensus was that the people doing the work know how best to find innovations and save energy, so it’s necessary to engage employees at all levels.
That sounded a lot like the point Gwen made a few months ago in a podcast with Marc Gunther after we announced results from the companies piloting the Green Portfolio Project tools: “The drivers know what’s going on in the fleet and the guys in the production line know what’s going on there. It’s a matter of being able to capture those ideas and systematize them. We see over and over again that that’s what’s behind a lot of this environmental innovation – it’s unleashing the workforce.”
Unfortunately, time ran out just as the discussion was heating up, but we hope that the discussion will continue here in the Innovation Exchange.
I’m headed back to DC tomorrow and with the time change probably won’t get a chance to do another post from here, but you can follow all the EDF_InnovEx tweets from the conference – including highlights of the breakfast roundtable Gwen Ruta is hosting tomorrow on The New Lean Green here.
Today, EDF releases Innovations Review 2009: Green Advances for a New Economy. As the title implies, we’re highlighting compelling new practices and technologies that drive operational efficiency, create new business opportunities and carve out competitive advantage in these challenging times. Why? Because even though these practices have been proven to be technically and financially feasible, they’re not yet in widespread use. Simply put, we want to see these innovations – and the environmental benefits they represent – spread more quickly.
Innovations Review 2009 covers advances in business sectors from food service to agriculture to real estate to financial services. For just a sampling, check out:
- High-tech computer systems that monitor real-time weather data and soil conditions to help companies reduce the water needed for crop irrigation and commercial landscaping by 15-40%.
- A new mortgage program that is boosting sales by offering homebuyers lower interest rates if they elect to install solar panels in their new homes.
- Annual employee performance reviews that now tie environmental results to compensation, up to the senior executive level.
We hope that Innovations Review 2009 will provide your company with useful models and inspire your team to go even further.
Talk and follow the conversation about Innovations Review 2009 with the tag: IR2009