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green@work : Magazine : Back Issues : July/Aug 2003 : Corporate Acts

Corporate Acts

Value Through Action
The new US BCSD moves forward to deliver sustainable development progress in the U.S.

By Callie Lasch

Corporate Acts

Time and again, we hear the comments: What are corporations doing about sustainable development? When are they going to get it? If only industry would . . .

The United States Business Council for Sustainable Development (US BCSD) is here to tell you it does get it. In fact, it intends to lead the way.

A non-profit association of industry leaders whose purpose is to create and deliver sustainable development projects in the United States, the US BCSD was created to seek collaborative, non-confrontational, results-oriented methodologies that demonstrate the viability of sustainable development at the operational level. In short, the US BCSD’s goal is to create value through action.

Launched in 2002, the US BCSD is a partner organization of the World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD), a network of 160 international companies with members drawn from 30 countries and 20 major industrial sectors. While the WBCSD is global in reach, the US BCSD is focused on addressing issues more specific to the U.S.

The concern is no longer whether industry leaders see the light. Companies today are painfully aware that economic prosperity at any price is simply not sustainable. Socially speaking, it has been well established that society will not accept businesses that are not fundamentally ethical, responsible and accountable. Environmentally, the impacts are hitting closer to home as companies increasingly deal with natural resource and power limitations for plant operations.

To a large extent, industrial leaders today are fully engaged in the how of it all. While sustainable development as a concept is comprehensible enough, implementation requires more thorough and sophisticated thinking. This journey toward sustainable development is still uncharted territory for many of the levels on which business operates, and turning big ships around requires great vision, expert leadership and collaborative teamwork. Along the way, every kind of cultural, regulatory, economical and technological barrier surfaces and must be sorted out. Boards must be educated and employees trained. Dialogue and trust must be developed with stakeholders and, yes, the economic bottom line must continue to be reconciled. This is not work for the meek.

For the US BCSD members though, the rewards are clear on both a professional and personal level. While they are certainly stimulated by breakthrough technological innovation and brand opportunities, what draws industry is also a more human element.

For the first time in this debate of industry versus the public good, there seems to be a genuine bridge, a winning proposition for business, society and the environment alike. Each of us has a stake in this. It’s the retiring CEO who’s beginning to comprehend his company’s impact on his grandchildren’s future. The employee who’s excited to come to work because she’s inspired by the chance to create a better product and make a difference on a deeper level. The community members who are pleased to provide a license to operate in exchange for jobs and a better lifestyle, because they recognize that this company will also protect the health of the local environment. Sustainable development seems to provide a harmony of direction for all involved—opportunities for new business, work with a more fulfilled sense of purpose, and respect for natural resources.

A Knowledge Collective

As a multi-interest forum, the council’s strength lies in its ability to galvanize companies and ideas that offer cross-industry opportunities and resolutions. It relies on the richness of the hands-on experience, information and approaches of its members.

Because member companies and associations come to the table with their own project needs, they create their own value. Rather than each individual company attempting to resolve the same issues that others are also coping with, the council provides an arena of trust and partnership so those struggling with implementation can explore, develop, test and refine their approaches—before even hitting the ground—by tapping into the collective knowledge and intelligence of fellow members.

The US BCSD believes that a broad spectrum of partnerships brings about more holistic solutions. It collaborates with academia, which serves as a knowledge base, a credible mediator, the supplier of human resources and provider of clues to the development of new technologies. Non-governmental organizations are important stakeholders because they bring important social diversity. Smaller companies are encouraged to join to benefit from the dialogue and access to representation at a leadership level.

Industry is clearly in a mass transformation, and the US BCSD is working to share its voice and collective wisdom as a means to sustainable solutions here in the United States.

“Sustainable development isn’t for everyone,” says Gordon Forward, US BCSD member and former CEO of Chaparral Steel, “but my thought is: I love to compete with people who think that way.”

Callie Lasch is director of communications for the US BCSD. For membership information, visit or contact William Burnidge at 512-892-6411.

Current Projects

The US BCSD is focused on five project platforms:

  • By-Product Synergy: A practical application of industrial ecology in which companies work together in a given region to match feedstock needs to unwanted by-products trans- forming waste to product. BPS projects have been successfully implemented in multiple U.S. states, as well as in Mexico and Canada. BPS work is ongoing with local, state and federal agencies to create incentives to remove regulatory barriers to by-product reuse.
  • Sustainable Forestry: The US BCSD is working with conservation groups, universities, landowners and forest product companies to identify and realize the environmental, economic and social benefits of converting frequently flooded agricultural lands into sustainable forests. These projects involve using public conservation funds to leverage private investment in future timber harvest and carbon credits.
  • Supply/Value Chain Integration: This project links large multi-national companies with small and medium-size enterprises to improve the sustainability of their shared supply/value chains. The council is currently evaluating projects that include: ransportation, operations, maintenance and technological improvements.
  • Water Resource Management: In its conceptual stage, a water resource management initiative is being developed to examine alternatives to current practices that address resource limitations, constraints and multiple stakeholders sharing one or more watersheds.
  • Education and Knowledge: Basic information is critical to opening the gateway to new opportunities. Member organizations, associations and societies all play a role in communicating risk and advocating solutions that consider social issues in the context of scientific principles.

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