Building a Green Economy: Connecting Sustainability to Business and Job Creation-The Los Angeles Business Council’s annual sustainability summit was held on April 6th at the Getty Center, a museum overlooking the city that is impressive not only for its extensive art collection, but also for its beautiful, LEED-EB Silver facilities.
The day’s events featured three panel discussions and keynote speeches, with participants representing major public and private organizations such as Safeway, Jones Lang LaSalle, the California Air Resources Board, LA Unified School District, Southern California Edison, the LA City Council, Kyocera Solar, Arden Realty, and others. Notable panel participants and keynote speakers included Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, California Attorney General Jerry Brown, LA City Controller Wendy Greuel, and Michael Peevey, President of the California PUC.
The summit featured a terrific collection of speakers and panelists, and we were thrilled to be in attendance as a cooperating organization. We’ll be sharing what we heard with all of you in this short blog series, beginning with this report on the first panel of the day, Discussion of Best Practices among Sustainable Industry Pioneers.
This was a dynamic panel full of sustainability leaders who aren’t afraid to speak out on controversial topics. Focusing primarily on the drivers for sustainability and on how an organization can get started, all of the panelists emphasized the need to be proactive, innovative, and persistent. As in the recent SVLG Corporate Sustainability Symposium, Sustainability Showcase Award winner Jones Lang LaSalle was again represented, this time by Lauralee Martin, Executive Vice President and Global Chief Operating and Financial Officer. She stated that the hardest part of initiating a corporate sustainability program is getting past stakeholders’ confusion on the subject of sustainability: Why is sustainability important to business? What should be measured? What goals and commitments should be adopted? Getting past this confusion, Martin said, requires passion and persistence.
Echoing this theme, when asked how he was able to help revitalize Oakland as mayor, Jerry Brown (now the California Attorney General) immediately boomed, “force of will”; he quickly added that a receptive and change-oriented public is also essential to get past inertia and regulation. Brown’s heartfelt outburst was easily the most memorable moment of the day.
Kevin Ratner, President of Forest City Residential West, also commented on the need to have internal and external stakeholders be educated on and receptive to the benefits of sustainability. Internally, staff members need to stop viewing green as a cost, and instead recognize it as a savings opportunity. Vendors and contractors also require a similar culture change. Residents of Forest City’s multifamily developments also require education in the behavioral aspects of sustainability, in order to ensure that their buildings are operated in a green manner.
Joseph Pettus, Senior VP of Fuel and Energy at Safeway, agreed that it is essential for a corporation to understand that “green is a profit center”. All of Safeway’s environmental initiatives, including reducing GHG emissions by 10% in 2006, the first year of their corporate GHG reduction program, either earn or save money. Pettus stressed that none of Safeway’s actions have been undertaken out of fear of legislation or any other “stick” approach. Rather, Safeway has been “going for the carrot”, pursuing the financial and other benefits that come with adopting sustainability. As the top commercial electricity consumer in the state, Safeway’s business practices can have a significant impact on California, so we were happy to hear their unambiguous recognition of the sustainability value proposition.
Venturing into more political territory, Pettus added that Safeway wants a map, not directions. In other words, Safeway supports government establishment of market frameworks (it publicly supports cap and trade, for example), but does not support mandates for specific actions. The company prefers that the path to achieving policy goals be determined by the private sector, in the context of a market designed to support those policy goals. Pettus also emphasized the need to maintain flexibility, stating that he thinks California is not yet ready for auctioning of carbon credits, given today’s economy.
While agreeing that flexibility is essential, Attorney General Jerry Brown seemed somewhat concerned by Pettus’ comments, stating that it’s important to first take bold steps, and then adjust. While policymakers taking this approach may not have a lot of support, he feels it is necessary to take risks and innovate – and that business has an important role to play in pursuing innovation. Stating his belief that we now live in an “era of limits”, Brown summed up his perception of the central challenge of sustainability, which is whether we can “visualize long term problems and avoid them efficiently by acting now”.
Despite the difficulties both corporations and government agencies face in taking a long term perspective, all of the panelists seemed to feel that sustainability is slowly but surely moving into the mainstream. In fact, Lauralee Martin of Jones Lang LaSalle has found that commercial property owners express even greater interest in sustainability today than they did before the economic downturn, as owners recognize the potential to save money and be more attractive to potential tenants by reducing energy costs and increasing sustainability. Expressing her confidence in the sustainability value proposition, Martin stated that in the future, sustainability will be inseparable from the rest of business. Here at the California Sustainability Alliance, we could not agree more.