Top Corporate Sustainability Trends in 2013

by | Jan 10, 2013

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In years past, companies would provide recycling receptacles and install compact fluorescent light bulbs (CFLs) and consider themselves “green.” But with pressing forces of climate change, strained resources and transparency, corporate sustainability has evolved and become embedded deeper in business decisions. It now defines company culture and corporate reputation.

A number of significant sustainability developments occurred in 2012, contributing to our need for increased collective action around climate change. The Dodd-Frank Act mandated companies to disclose information related to their supply chain. The US drought grew and became more extreme, impacting agriculture and commodity prices. Conversations after Hurricane Sandy showed the need for increased adaptation and resiliency necessary for the future.

In the midst of these pressing issues, I see the following five trends emerging in the world of corporate sustainability in 2013:

1. The intersection of technology and sustainability. Across industries, technology is being utilized to find operation management efficiencies or drive sustainability into purchasing practices. These advancements allow companies to look at real-time data on a host of issues, such as carbon and water use, and make immediate recommendations that will conserve resources. At Darden, we are exploring how to leverage technology to view the performance of each of our restaurants in real time. Our goal is to identify and gather key insights from the top performing restaurants to employ across our operations.

2. Growing interest in supply chain and product sourcing from consumers. When and where a consumer buys a product – be it a purse or a meal at Red Lobster – they want more information.  Where was this product sourced? Who made the product and what were their working conditions? Were there any environmental impacts in the production cycle? Issues related to supply chain and product sourcing will be a topic for the private sector to address, and ideally, will help to increase proactive transparency and engagement. 

3. Leveraging employees to implement sustainability. Corporate sustainability is less about the size of the staff and more about how people across the company are embedding sustainability throughout their work. A trend has begun to make sustainability a part of performance evaluations in an attempt to drive sustainability throughout an organization. Companies like Intel and Shell link sustainability as a part of their review process.  How a company integrates performance management and sustainability will help drive large-scale change. By working with key groups, such as human resources, sustainability becomes integrated into a company’s culture.

4. Increased focus on our natural resources. As our growing global population consumes more food and energy, businesses are competing for fresh water. Seventy percent of water is used for agriculture and 47 percent of the world’s population could be living under severe water stress by 2050. This means that from an ecosystems perspective, we are all interconnected. Water is critical to the broader economy because products, services and jobs all depend on this natural resource.

5. A broader definition of “sustainability.” Creating a sustainable business not only benefits the planet, but it also impacts people – from employees and consumers to partners and local communities where we do business. Through innovative partnerships and involvement from a multitude of stakeholders, an opportunity emerges to collaborate and spark real change. By evolving the way we view sustainability and breaking away from a narrowed focus on just the environment, we will move closer to a broader definition around the core of corporate responsibility.

What sustainability trends do you predict in 2013? We would like to hear more from you, so leave us a comment below.

Brandon Tidwell is manager of sustainability for Darden Restaurants.

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