September 14, 2004
Conference Promotes Sustainability Through Corporate Collaboration
by William Baue
The Society for Organizational Learning (SoL) Business Innovation for Sustainability Forum calls
for cooperation amongst companies as well as with stakeholders.
In the current climate, corporations sit at the crossroads between capitalism, fueled as it is by
competition, and sustainability, which requires significant collaboration to reverse destructive
social, environmental, and economic trends. While corporations cannot escape the capitalist
underpinnings of the free market economy, neither can they afford to continue unsustainable
practices leading to society's (as well as their own) ruin.
Enter the Society for
Organizational Learning (SoL), a nonprofit
member organization that promotes collaboration amongst corporations, nongovernmental organizations
(NGOs), and academics. SoL is sponsoring a forum on sustainability entitled
"Business Innovation for Sustainability: Leadership, Learning, and Collaboration for a Living
Economy," which will be held from October 11 through 14, 2004 in Dearborn, Michigan. While many
conferences focus on how companies can advance sustainability in their own operations, this one
will focus on corporate collaboration on sustainability.
Asked to describe the main
mission of SoL, founding chair and Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) Senior Lecturer Peter Senge explained as follows:
basic idea is very simple: that world organizations can do together what they can't possibly do by
themselves," stated Dr. Senge in an interview published in Link, an internal
newsletter at PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC).
"The whole area of sustainability is a prime example."
"There's very little that any one
company by itself can do to lead industrial societies toward a way of living that conserves rather
than destroys our social and natural capital," continued Dr. Senge.
corporate community will show a strong presence at the forum. Forum presenters include CEOs such
as Roger Saillant of Plug Power (ticker: PLUG) and Dinesh Paliwal of ABB (ABB). Corporate
responsibility executives, such as Bob Langert of McDonald’s (MCD), David Stangis of Intel (INTC), and Rob
Frederick of Ford (F), also fill the ranks of
presenters. True to SoL's ties with the research community, presenters also include researchers
such as Riva Krut of Cameron-Cole, Frank
Dixon of Innovest Stategic Value
Advisors, Amory Lovins of Rocky Mountain Institute (RMI), and John Elkington of SustainAbility.
The forum, sponsored by SoL's
Sustainability Consortium that includes BP (BP), Coca-Cola (KO), Harley-Davison (HDI), HP (HPQ), Nike (NKE), Shell (RD), Unilever (UN), and United
Technologies (UTX), will focus on a series of
questions. Questions include what metrics companies use to define sustainability achievement, as
well as what are compelling business cases for sustainability? Dr. Senge's answer to the latter
question provides a potential preview to how it will be answered at the forum.
look at any long-term investment or new technology, the idea that there is a cut-and-dried
quantitative business case is nonsense," Dr. Senge said in the PwC interview, after which he cited
an example of a business case for sustainability. "One of the largest sellers of fish products and
agricultural goods in the world is also one of the largest users of water."
"They look at
global practices in fishing, agriculture, and water, and they basically say, the business case [for
sustainable development] for us is survival," Dr. Synge continued. "That's one type of business
case, and believe me, it's very compelling."
Workshop titles, such as "Reducing
Unsustainability Does Not Create Sustainability: Using the Shifting-the-Burden Archetype to Examine
Alternatives to Sustainability Strategies," reveal little tolerance for greenwash. Other workshop
topics, such as "Total Corporate Responsibility: Making Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) and
Socially Responsible Investment (SRI) Sustainable," address cutting-edge approaches to creating