Portland State’s Sustainable Business Conference encourages eco-innovation
Yesterday marked the beginning of the fifth annual Portland State Sustainable Business Conference. The three-day event will bring together business leaders from all over the country to discuss the future of sustainability within American companies.
The event, which continues until tomorrow, focuses on how business can adjust to an ever-changing ecological and economic environment.
“The goal of the conference is to bring together sustainable business practitioners and educators from around the world and to generate meaningful dialogue—the kind of dialogue that inspires positive action,” said event organizer Alison Dennis, executive director for the Center for Global Leadership in Sustainability at PSU.
The keynote speaker for the conference was Jerry Greenfield, co-founder of Ben & Jerry’s Homemade Inc., the producer of Ben & Jerry’s ice cream.
Ben & Jerry’s Homemade Inc. continues to introduce new and innovative ways of approaching sustainability. One such innovation is the Ben and Jerry’s PartnerShop Program, which allows a nonprofit organization—which would typically rely on government grants and private donations for financing—to operate and collect the proceeds from a Ben & Jerry’s location. One recently opened PartnerShop, run by New Avenues For Youth, is located in PSU’s Urban Plaza.
Other conference speakers include Jeff Foote, director of customer sustainability for Coca-Cola; Brett Beach, co-founder of fair-trade–focused Madecasse Chocolates; and Dr. Carol Franco, assistant research professor at the Institute for Sustainable Solutions.
With growing concern over the future of the environment, the Sustainable Business Conference attendees hopes to discuss and devise new solutions to ecological problems our society may soon face.
One of the companies represented at the conference, Coca-Cola, has been working to become more sustainable over the years. The ubiquitous red cans are becoming greener, thanks to reduced material use, increased integration of recycled plastics and an introduction of plant-based bottles and packaging.
“There is a growing critical mass of students, faculty and business practitioners around the world committed to transforming the way business is studied, taught and practiced,” Dennis said.
The major theme of the conference is authenticity. According to a press release by the Center for Global Leadership in Sustainability, a program within the PSU School of Business Administration, “In the wake of the global financial crisis, business executives and thought leaders are clear that restoring trust is critical to fueling economic recovery and generating future value.”
Conference attendees will discuss a number of ways to accomplish this.
“One way for companies to be ‘authentic’ is for them to pay attention to and try to minimize their environmental impact score—it picks up both the environmental damage caused by the company’s operations and also the impact of the whole supply chain,” explained Robert Costanza, a professor of sustainability at PSU and former director of the ISS.
“But ultimately, we need new institutions that can adequately handle the world’s common assets, like the environment, and hold them in trust for the community,” Costanza said.
Sustainability is quickly becoming a front-burner issue in the business community. On Oct. 15, Portland’s citywide ban of plastic bags took effect, which restricts major companies’ ability to distribute the non-biodegradable bags. A plastic bag ban has also been passed in San Francisco. In other cities, including Washington, D.C., customers are charged for plastic bags.
If this trend continues, businesses may be forced to consider more sustainable options.