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Through the generosity of James Farrar SAP VP for CSR and support of Stephanie Raabe who helped launch SAP Feedingknowledge, I had the opportunity to attend the Economist Conference in NYC today titled: Sustainability Challenge- Addressing Environmental and Societal Demands on Business.

What better way to educate oneself around the topic of Corporate Social Responsibility, than to listen to panel discussions with some of the most informed thinkers in this sphere representing global (UN Global Compact), public sector US (EPA), corporate (Dupont, Orange Telecom, SAP, Jones LangLaSalle and Bank of America), and academic (Harvard University Kennedy School of Government) perspectives.

I know that James Governor, Thomas Otterand Dennis Howlett had received an opportunity from James Farrar to hear from and about Transparency Internationalback in November in Berlin and I was sorely grieved to have missed that event because of my TechEd travels.  This invitation was ample compensation and a real learning opportunity.

 

The event provided the audience of about 130 business leaders with fodder for thought around the following topics:

  • What      does sustainability mean to companies around the world?
  • What      are they doing well and where is more action required?
  • Does      sustainability pay and how much does it matter?
  • Can      this build shareholder value?
  • Sustainability      obstacles
  • Business      and government, markets vs regulation
  • What      it the role of business
  • Where      does that role stop

Vijay Vaitheeswaran, correspondent, for the Economist chaired the conference and I found him exceedingly adept at moving the panel discussions along by asking provoking questions, engaging the audience with the speakers and allowing each of the featured panelists to present their unique perspectives. 

 

Each session easily warrants a separate entry, but I will try  to summarize just one speaker of one discussion here.

A big takeaway came from a surprising source:

 

The title of the blog is a quote from Mark Vergnano, Group Vice-president of DuPont Safety and Protection. “Collaboration isn’t an option, it’s a requirement”. Pretty compelling (actually disruptive and disturbing) to think of Dupont as a force for sustainability.  Vergnano described Dupont as a company viewed in the past as one of the largest polluters in the world.  For me such companies are still tainted with the specter of Union Carbide and the tragedy of Bhopal(synonymous with chemical and industrial disasters) hovering.  The images of Bhopal are lingering ghosts that haunt and inform our sensibilities about that particular industry.  Perhaps the Dupont story is so compelling for the very reason that it was hard to think of Dupont partnering with BP resulting in attaining sustainability goals and reducing carbon footprint and yet, Dupont claims to not only have accomplished its goals but to have saved billions of dollars.   As a number of the speakers pointed out, if the company had been “Ben and Jerry’s” or Timberlake, the impact of the sustainable growth mission of Dupont, a top-down driven, gunpowder company, would have been less dramatic.

 

Vergnano spoke of science as an enabler and collaboration as an imperative. If  Dupont has indeed harnessed science and partnered with BP in order to get  government on boarded with bio-fuel usage and has managed, as it declares, to  have turned waste to energy and taken the unique science of two companies and  through collaboration, succeeded in its goals, it is an interesting story indeed.

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