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Celebrating the Expanding Conversation on the New Metrics of Sustainable Business
October 2, 2012
Last week marked the culmination of this year’s month-long exploration of the shifting nature of value and the new business metrics that are being crafted to help define, measure and manage value for the future. Aptly, the month and week wrapped with the 2nd annual New Metrics of Sustainable Business Conference.
The conference was a reflection of the space itself — expanding to two days to accommodate the breadth of case studies and key industry debates that are taking place on this topic in business today. Attendance grew 75% as well over 2011 and sold out, drawing participation from 6 countries, and attracting leaders from brands as wide-ranging as Dow, Disney, Procter & Gamble, Walmart, Interface, Hess, Nestlé, L’Oreal, Cirque du Soleil, Bloomberg and dozens more. Leading consultancies, academics, NGOs and governmental agencies including Deloitte, Ernst & Young, UNC Kenan-Flagler Business School, The Global Reporting Initiative, the IIRC, The Nature Conservancy, and the US EPA also participated in the discussion about where the future is headed with regard to how companies will create, measure and report on the value they’re offering.
Eric Orts, Executive Director of Wharton’s Initiative for Global Environmental Leadership (IGEL) welcomed attendees by sharing the importance of disciplined research and emotion-free analytics as a tool for clarifying and quantifying emerging trends, and warned of leaning on wishful thinking for decision-making. Presenters such as Gregory Larkin, Bloomberg’s Innovation & New Product Development and Witold Henisz, Professor of Management at The Wharton School validated that there is much value yet to be unlocked in more sustainable management strategies through rigorous forms of traditional financial analysis. Countless examples were shared, such as “organic arbitrage,” an investment strategy that values brands that source beef and dairy from grass-fed cows, which are shielded from the rising cost of feed in drought years faced by those who source from corn-fed stock.
Key debates were held about the future of standards, with representatives from ULE, EPEAT and the Sustainable Apparel Coalition, and on the inevitable inclusion of context in reporting requirements, with representatives of the Global Reporting Initiative, the International Integrated Reporting Council and the Center for Sustainable Organizations. The conversation also included the importance of understanding materiality as a key tool for unlocking value and impact (and methods and tools for best doing so), and how to frame sustainability initiatives for investors and CFOs. Finally, New Metrics guest editor and conference MC Paul Herman, of HIP Investor, drove home the fact that 80% of today’s business value sits in the form of intangible value, and yet little effort is given to measuring and managing those intangibles. This leaves enormous room for upside for companies who begin to look at developing assets such as people, reputation and social capital or trust, which are well served through activities that contribute to sustainable business and society.
Attendees left the New Metrics Conference buzzing with energy, and many were heard offering as parting words, “See you in London” — referring to SB’s first offshore convening of the Sustainable Brands community, SB London, coming up in 8 short weeks at London’s Mermaid Theatre, November 27-28.
For more images from the event, visit our Facebook page.