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The short history of Sustainability in the United States of America
Sustainability has its roots in the environmental movement; an effort that most agree began in the U.S.A. with Teddy Roosevelt and John Muir circa 1890-1910. Sharing a passion for the environment, both men made some rather bold moves for the times resulting in the establishment of the National Park Bill and Yosemite National Park in 1890, the Sierra Club in 1892 and the US Forest Service by 1905. The value of those bold moves and, in turn, the value of preserving the environment is rarely questioned today but sustainability is a different story. Until just a few years ago, virtually anything that involved being environmentally conscious, socially responsible or good for the planet was unilaterally dismissed as requiring an added cost to execute, while no monetary value was assigned to the benefits of making the sustainable choice.
It is also widely agreed that the term “Sustainability”, as we use it today in business can be traced to the coining of the term “sustainable development” at the 1972 UN conference in Stockholm – 1972!. That is how recently we, as a society, began to understand that employing strategies and materials that endure (or are sustainable) and reduce the waste created in production or disposal can actually save money and even create new revenue streams.
The following timeline outlines some important dates along society’s road to the realization that often our profits can be tied up in our expenses and by choosing sustainable solutions to reduce those expenses we can profit more than financially…
* 1969 – passage of the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA)
* July 9, 1970 – President Nixon submitted to Congress a reorganization plan proposing the establishment of a U.S.Environmental Protection Agency as an independent agency in the executive branch of the federal government.
* December 2, 1970 – EPA begins operations
* April 22, 1970 – The first Earth Day was celebrated
* 1971 – Greenpeace was created
* 1972 – United Nations Conference on the Human Environment (known as the Stockholm Conference) Stockholm, Sweden. The concept of “sustainable development” was born (and later popularized in Our Common Future a report published in 1987. Also known as the Brundtland report)and the United Nations Environmental Program (UNEP)was formed with a mandate to promote the idea of environmentally-sound development. Eventually the work of the UNEP helped launch, among other things;
* 1975 – the International Environmental Educational Program (IEEP)
* 1980 – World Conservation Strategy
* December 1983 – World Commission on Environment and Development known as the WCED. Organized to re-examine critical environmental and development problems around the world and formulate realistic proposals to address them, as well as to strengthen international cooperation on environmental and development issues, while raising the level of understanding of and commitment to sustainable development on the part of individuals, organizations, businesses and governments.
* 1987 – Publication of “Our Common Future”, (The Brundtland Report) by the World Commission on Environment and Development, which outlined a path for global sustainable development and served a key role in bringing sustainability into the public eye world-wide. It included the “classic” definition of sustainable development: “development which meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.” Sustainable development calls for a convergence between the three pillars of economic development, social equity, and environmental protection and is often shown as the common area of three overlapping circles; social (justice), economy (or equity), and environmental protection. Acceptance of the report by the United Nations General Assembly gave the term political salience; and in 1992 leaders set out the principles of sustainable development at the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
* 1992 – An additional outcome of the WCED report, was the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED). A two-year series of preparatory meetings culminated in the Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro, June 1992. This was the second time world leaders had met to discuss environmental and development issues. The Rio de Janeiro Earth Summit was substantially larger than the Stockholm Conference 20 years earlier with over 100 heads of state and government and delegates from 170 nations. A “Declaration of Environment and Development” and an Agenda for the 21st Century or Agenda 21 (which sought to establish a concerted effort to educate people about the state of both environment and development and to assist them to make decisions that lead to sustainability) were conceived.
* 1993 – June; President Clinton signed an executive order establishing the President’s Council on Sustainable Development (PCSD). The Council was established to help create U.S. policies that will encourage economic growth, job creation, and environmental protection. The 25 member Council transformed the President’s vision of sustainable development into a concrete plan of action, built new partnerships among representatives from industry, government, environmental, labor, and civil rights organizations, developed approaches to integrate economic and environmental policies.
* 1996 – The Council (PCSD) published a report entitled, “Sustainable America: A New Consensus for Prosperity, Opportunity, and A Healthy Environment for the Future.”
* 1997 – The Commission issued its second major report entitled, “Building on Consensus: A Progress Report on Sustainable America.”In December of 1997, more than 150 nations adopted a historic agreement known as theKyoto Climate Agreement to protect the earth’s atmosphere and climate. This climate agreement was established in Kyoto, Japan. For the first time, nations agreed to place legally binding limits to their emissions of heat trapping greenhouse gases.Specifically,38 industrial nations agreed to reduce their emissions of six greenhouse gases to 5% below the 1990 emission levels by the year 2012.At the same time,and while not a signatory to the Kyoto Protocol, President Bush also committed the US to cut greenhouse gas intensity by 18% over the next 10 years. The Global Climate Change initiative also supports vital climate change research and ensures that America’s Workers and citizens of the developing world are not unfairly penalized.
* 2002 – August 26 – September 4. World Summit for Sustainable Development (WSSD) Johannesburg, South Africa An estimated 60,000 people from all over the world attended the Summit, which resulted in commitments in five priority areas and backed up by specific government announcements on programs, and by partnership initiatives. The five priority areas included water, energy, health, agriculture and biodiversity.
The GRI issues the Sustainability reporting Guidelines. The Guidelines represent the foundation upon which all other GRI reporting documents are based, and outline core content that is broadly relevant to all organizations regardless of size, sector, or location. The confluence of environmental, social and commercial concerns gave rise to the “triple bottom line” method of measuring corporate performance.A growing number of companies were starting to look beyond the traditional ways of measuring success, which were aimed entirely at shareholder value creation. By focusing on longer-term measures and taking account of externalities, the triple-bottom-line approach seemed to herald a more responsible way of conducting business and measuring performance
2005 Kyoto Protocol enters into force, legally binding developed countries to goals for Greenhouse Gas (GHG) emission reductions, and establishing the Clean Development Mechanism for developing countries.
2006 Walmart institutes a global sustainability strategy. One of the world’s leading retail companies commits to supply 100% by renewable energy, create zero waste, and sell products that sustain people and environment. This strategy begins to transform Walmart’s global supply chain, and sets an example for multi-nationals to follow.
2009 G20 Pittsburgh Summit G20 Nations provide guidance for a 21st century global, sustainable and balanced economy.
2010. Climate change is becoming established as reality for all but a few skeptics.
UN Climate Change Conference (COP16) held in Cancun, Mexico. Negotiators from around the world reach a modest set of agreements. They say industrialized countries should reduce emissions by 25-40 per cent below 1990 levels by 2020. There is no agreement on cuts by a number of rapidly growing economies.
2011 The UN Development Programme’s Human Development Report of 2011 called for urgent action to slow climate change, prevent further degradation and reduce inequalities, as environmental deterioration threatens to reverse recent progress in human development for the world’s poorest. Notable among the report’s findings are the following:
- Over the last 30 years, the countries in the lowest 25 per cent of the Human Development Index rankings improved their scores by a striking 82 per cent, twice the global average.
- If this pace of improvement continues over the next 40 years, most of these countries would achieve standards equal to or better than those now enjoyed by the top 25 per cent.
- But the effects of climate change could derail progress in the world’s least developed places.
- Factoring in the projected effects of climate change on weather, food production and pollution, the index’s average score drops by 8 per cent worldwide from what would otherwise be predicted — and by 12 per cent in sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia.
- A 0.005 per cent tax on foreign exchange trading could raise $40 billion or more every year to fund the fight against climate change and extreme poverty.
- Electricity can be provided to the 1.5 billion people who are now off the power grid in a manner that is both affordable and sustainable, without increasing global carbon emissions by even 1 per cent.
2012 RIO+20: Fifty years after Silent Spring, 40 years after Stockholm, and 20 years after the Earth Summit, the global community reconvenes in an effort to secure agreement on “greening” world economies through a range of smart measures for clean energy, decent jobs and more sustainable and fair use of resources.
The Future of Corporate Sustainability Reporting (CSR)
Sustainability awareness is accelerating at a rapid pace, and with it comes a growing emphasis on business solutions and opportunities for value creation. Companies from DuPont to Unilever to Wal-Mart established ambitious company- and portfolio-wide sustainability targets. More than 230,000 MW of non-fossil fuel-based energy was installed worldwide over the last decade. In an interview with the Financial Times, former CEO of GE Jack Welch called a single minded focus on shareholder value creation “the dumbest idea in the world “. Although the shareholder model of capitalism remains firmly entrenched, there is a growing realization that a focus on narrow, short-term results will not help companies grow and prosper over the long term. Recent developments are making it easier for companies to embed sustainability in their business practices. In addition to the increased public interest in sustainability today, there are now techniques and processes for measuring and reporting on virtually every aspect of economic and environmental sustainability. In providing a formal method for making comparisons across companies, applications such as the Global Reporting Initiative and the Natural Step are doing much to help sustainability be taken more seriously among the business and investor communities.
How it applies to you…
Corporate Sustainability, Corporate Social responsibility (CSR); The Corporate sustainability Officer, Environmental Officer or Chief Green Officer; however you have come to know it, these practices and positions – that did not even exist just a few short years ago – are not only here to stay, but present one of history’s greatest opportunities for enterprises, public and private, to revive profitability, brand recognition and create customer loyalty! So, the management and profitability of sustainable practices and product innovation is becoming a high priority for heads of sustainability in virtually every industry.
But the playing field is constantly changing. Global directives, national initiatives, state, and local regulations are all affecting what companies should or should not use or do in manufacturing, cleaning, maintenance and even energy consumption.
In the last five years we have seen the sustainability strategies of corporate leaders in many industries change from internal operating cost analysis to a maturing process that now must consider external forces, both up line (suppliers, vendors, contractors, strategic partners, etc.) and down line (to prospects, customers and clients) especially as it relates to the products they deal in, whether those products are acquired, produced or sold. Product-based sustainability initiatives, from raw material sourcing and manufacturing to usage and disposal, are proving to contain substantial savings and profit possibilities through operational efficiencies, supply chain management, product and process innovation, brand and marketing positioning and new business opportunities.
In the past three years, corporate leaders’ sustainability strategies, especially in product-based sectors, have seen an increase in the analysis of the footprint of products that they sell, the components that go into that product and the process of making it and running the business. The complexity of product life cycles, varying levels of influence, and the sheer scale of product impacts in the supply chain during customer use and at the end-of-life phase, present new challenges and opportunities.
EnviroProfit, LLC. helps Chief Sustainability Officers and Product Managers identify the tangible business benefits of a Sustainability Plan or product sustainability strategy; understand emerging best practices and anticipate future trends in energy procurement and consumption. Business benefits range from significant cost savings to boosting consumer trust and attracting new business.
EnviroProfit, LLC. provides the detailed analysis Financial Officers need to effectively make decisions on an array of services that reduce a corporation’s environmental impact while saving money.
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