By Lotta Nordin
If you’re not adopting sustainable practices, like installing solar panels or giving bikes to your employees (the way IKEA does), you’re missing out on an opportunity, said local business owners who spoke at a recent panel on the business value of sustainability held by the Swedish-American Chamber of Commerce (SACC) at SCA Americas‘ office in the Cira Centre.
Read on to find the main reasons why the panelists believe that sustainability gives their businesses a competitive edge, as written by SACC spokeswoman Lotta Nordin. But first, what’s the connection between Sweden and sustainability? Nordin explained, below.
In Sweden and Scandinavia, sustainability is an important business value. Swedish companies have long been among the leaders with several companies on Corporate Knights’ Global 100 list, a list of the most sustainable businesses in the world. Sweden also became the first country to have a coordinated government function for corporate responsibility when the Ministry of Foreign Affairs launched its Global Responsibility unit in 2002 .
The panelists who worked at Swedish companies were all convinced that their work in this field had a lot to do with their Scandinavian heritage. Poul Jeppesen, CEO of technology provider SKF USA, said that when he came to the U.S. from Denmark some 20 years ago, he was the only one in his building who turned the lights off when leaving: “From the outside you could only see one dark office space â€“ mine,” he said. “In Scandinavian countries that is how we grew up, I remember my mother always telling me to turn off the lights when leaving a room.”
Lisa Davis, Social & Environmental Affairs Manager of IKEA USA, quickly agreed: “When working for IKEA, you are closely tied with the Scandinavian values of cost consciousness, hard work and and making more from less.”
She described how IKEA has given bicycles to its employees, put solar panels on more than 90 percent of their stores in the US and has stopped selling incandescent light bulbs. IKEA’s goal is to be a leader in selling LED light bulbs, she said. In addition, IKEA is working toward having its stores and buildings being 100 percent supported by as much renewable energy as we consume. And SCA, another company represented on the panel, seeks to plant three new trees for each one they take down.
So, why embrace sustainability? Here’s what the panelists said.
- Customers demand it. “If you have not started working with sustainability yet, you have missed a major opportunity,” said Amy Bellcourt, VP Communications of manufacturing company SCA Americas. “Customers are getting more aware every day and they demand sustainable business partners and products.”
- It’s a differentiator. VP Leasing & Development of Liberty Property Trust Brian Berson said that his company uses sustainability and green buildings, or high-performance buildings, as a differentiator in the hardening competition of the commercial real estate market: “Liberty Property Trust is one of the leading developers of high-performance green office and industrial buildings,” Berson said. “We believe that high-performance green buildings are not just good for the planet, but create economic value for our tenants, shareholders and employees.”
- It gets you your money’s worth. The moderator, Minna Mars-Logemann from corporate reputation startup EarthRate, asked what the panelists’ response was to people who see sustainability as nothing but a cost. “It is definitely giving us value back,” Bellcourt said. “If sustainability would be a cost, we would never be able to keep it up in the long-run.”
- It attracts talent. Bellcourt also said that SCA’s sustainability work is a way for the company to attract the best employees: “Young people today want to work for a company with a good agenda,” she said.”They go to our website to see what sort of company we are. So for us, it is clearly also about attracting the best talent out there.” The other panelists agreed.