Is Sustainable Business Possible?
Thank you, Chris, and thank you everyone attending the Sustainable Business Leadership Forum.
It’s great to see all of you. Isn’t the Whitewater Center fabulous? When you step out on that
terrace, you’ll be looking at the world’s largest artificial whitewater river, where they held the
Olympic Team Trials a few days ago.
This is yet another green day in an already very green year for our region. On April 7th, the
Urban Land Institute hosted a "Developing and Investing Green" Conference in downtown
Charlotte. Just two weeks ago, the Charlotte Business Journal hosted its Green Awards at the
Convention Center. The awards recognized for-profit and non-profit organizations that are
encouraging environmentally sound practices. Then on April 19th, the Sierra Club and the US
Green Building Council presented Charlotte Clean and Green, a public awareness event, at
Central Piedmont Community College. I think the message is clear. Thanks to “An
Inconvenient Truth” and all the scientific data about global warming, we’ve reached a tipping
point. More and more people in our region see the need for sustainable design and development,
meaning the social, economic, cultural, and environmental benefits of growing green.
Which brings me to the reason I initiated this forum….
Years ago, there was a regional organization called Voices & Choices, whose original mission
was to convene leaders from 12 counties surrounding Charlotte to address emerging issues such
as transportation, urban sprawl and natural space preservation, air and water quality, and
economic vitality. For various reasons, the group lost direction as well as financial support.
After it folded, this region was left with a leadership void. Eager to fill that void, I met with
Chris William, co-founder of the ground-breaking Forum for Corporate Conscience. Our
meetings resulted in the Forum for Sustainable Business Development, which gathered leaders
from business, industry, academia, and non-profits. That 2006 Forum spotlighted innovative
methods for developing “green” businesses locally and recruiting them to invest in our region.
Sustainable Business Leadership Forum Address, April 30, 2008
The intention was to move Carolina businesses toward sustainable growth models and
The Forum you’re attending today builds upon that foundational dialogue on practical ways for
us to grow sustainably. I believe we have woken up. We are addressing the challenges ahead
and seeking to profit from them. That’s why we’re here, to capitalize on business opportunities
that benefit everyone. To do that requires us to exit our various comfort zones, to understand
that if we improve our business methods, then what we do will start producing positive effects
that improve our natural environment and overall quality of life.
Changing from traditional operating models to sustainable ones, however, is very difficult for
people. We need leaders such as you to guide others along the route. The fact is, just by being
here you are demonstrating the belief that positive change is occurring. You represent finance
and private equity, architecture and design, engineering and environmental management, land
development and construction, traditional and alternative energy, manufacturing and small
business. All of you are helping create a new business climate that could produce amazing
results and re-invigorate the American economy while ensuring its sustainability.
To guide us along this journey, we will focus on four subjects:
1. How to develop green business.
2. How to make green business profitable.
3. How to eliminate waste and improve energy efficiency.
4. How to determine your organization’s best course of action for integrating sustainable
policies and practices into your mission and goals.
By connecting leaders such as you, we contribute to building a business culture that sustains
itself. Thus, we need to differentiate between being green versus doing green. Our panelists,
keynoter, and the people sitting next to you are part of that educational process. All of us move
forward when we understand that innovation and entrepreneurship prepare us to handle “the
unpredictable forces that buffer markets.” We can be the Eco-wave riders who help our
“customers lower their costs and environmental burden” and grow their revenue while increasing
“customer loyalty” (Esty and Winston, Green to Gold, p 11).
To that end, you have come from the Carolinas, Georgia, Indiana, Pennsylvania, Washington,
DC, and California because you recognize the power and value of what we will accomplish
So, is sustainable business possible? That’s a hard question and it needs definition. Many of
you are familiar with the Brundtland Commission report that states, "Sustainable development is
development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future
generations to meet their own needs." Can anybody here tell me what that means exactly?
For me the definition is too vague. I prefer Carl Frankel’s concept that sustainability is
composed of three elements: economics, environment, and social equity. Some of you, such as
Adam Werbach, would add a fourth component: cultural equity. In fact, Adam will speak to that
element in his upcoming “The Birth of Blue” address.
The fact remains, if we use more than we replenish, we cannot live sustainably.
In the Carolinas, we have seen the disappearance of textile, furniture, and tobacco jobs. We are
starting to, and need to continue, replacing these industries with sustainable manufacturing and
services, working with local governments on incentives, and integrating intelligent land use
policies and planning into the design process. I urge us to act now rather than later, adopting a
holistic approach to growth that will give us an eco-advantage over others in the global
There are many people who helped make this event happen. First, I want to thank Beth Clark for
her attention to all the hundreds of little details, to Lyerly Agency for its superb handling of PR,
communications, and marketing, which includes helping to green event materials, to Total Event
Productions for the great lighting and visuals, to Topics Education for help with the multimedia,
and to a Board of Advisors that represent several of our sponsors. That board includes,
Chris William, Wachovia Securities
George Baldwin, Piedmont Natural Gas
Hank Thiel, Bank of America
Josh Thomas, Topics Education
Katy Ansardi, Sustainable North Carolina
Mary Rinehart, Rinehart & Associates
Michael Chenard, Lowe's Companies, Inc.
Michael Shore, FLS Energy
Mike Houlihan, Geosyntec Consultants
Peggy Brookhouse, Luquire George Andrews Agency
Roberta Bowman, Duke Energy
Tom Darden, Cherokee Investment Partners
Tom Girkins, Right Brain Solutions
And, of course, I want to thank our sponsors as well. Our diamond sponsor is the North Carolina
Sustainable Business Council. Platinum sponsors include The Charlotte Business Journal, Duke
Energy, Piedmont Natural Gas, and Tandus Group. Gold sponsors are Cherokee Investment
Partners, and Total Event Production. Silver sponsors are Lyerly Agency and Saatchi & Saatchi
S. Bronze supporters include the Charlotte Regional Partnership, Geosyntec, Horack Talley, and
Wachovia. Additional support has come from Argand Energy, the Blumenthal Foundation,
IKEA, Larry’s Beans, and Rinehart & Associates.
I also want to welcome members of the press from the Charlotte Business Journal, Dow Jones,
Greenbiz.com, and The Washington Post. We are especially privileged to have Neal Peirce
among us. As a reminder, no videotaping is allowed. We will allow interviews and photo
opportunities with panelists and Adam after panel discussions and the networking session.
Finally, for those of you getting re-fills of coffee, the restrooms are outside to the left just before
you exit the center. Thank you all for coming and enjoy the Forum.