Greener Horizons Toronto: Measuring the benefits of an integrated sustainability plan

Greener Horizons Toronto panel

 

Members of Toronto’s sustainability community recently met at the Metro Toronto Convention Centre for Bullfrog Power’s Greener Horizons panel discussion: Measuring an integrated sustainability plan. The panel, moderated by Leor Rotchild, Executive Director of CBSR, included Gabriela Polanco-Sorto, Associate Director, Corporate Responsibility, LoyaltyOne; Andrew Bowerbank, Global Director of Sustainable Building Services, EllisDon; and Margaret McKellar, Senior Marketing Manager of Innovation, Corby Spirit and Wine.

In his introductory remarks, Rotchild challenged us to move beyond the standard CSR report: “Are you going to read a 50-page glossy report, where I boast about the status quo?” Recognizing the challenges in moving to a purpose-based business model, Rotchild noted that for startups, “it’s probably a given that you’re going to be using a twenty-first century purpose-driven business model,” but for many larger companies the transition to a purpose-model can be challenging. To guide the discussion on integrating and measuring a sustainability plan, he set out three key themes: “purpose, a plan and partners.”

Finding purpose

For all three panelists, moving sustainability forward requires a top-down/bottom-up compromise. Gabriela Polanco-Sorto described LoyaltyOne’s sustainability journey beginning with a self-starting employee green team in 2007. Two years later, the CEO was integrating sustainability into the overall business strategy. “This approach started with operations,” Polanco-Sorto explained, “and, in 2009, the company was investing $1.8 million in a rooftop solar installation that, at the time, was one of the largest in Canada.”

For Corby, Margaret McKellar set out its structure as, “a Canadian company and a global company in that we’re affiliated with Pernod Ricard, so we have both global stakeholders and local stakeholders. That gives us a unique perspective.” For Corby, that means top-down emissions targets, but local flexibility on how to meet them and integrate their efforts with local farmers and other suppliers.

Andrew Bowerbank from EllisDon described his role as requiring that he “watch what is happening internationally because realistically in Canada we are ten to 15 years behind what is happening in Europe and South Asia.” The company’s global perspective and its CEO, Geoff Smith, have led to a focus on cross-sectoral collaboration as a way to establish the kind of leadership that would be necessary to meet big international climate goals.

How integrated plans measure successes

Discussing strategic goals and measuring tactical successes gave a sense of the breadth of industries the panelists represent. EllisDon measures its programs through four action items:

  1. Building zero energy or carbon neutral pilot projects;
  2. Tracking carbon emissions during the construction and operations of buildings;
  3. Introducing new technologies to clients that will own their facilities for decades;
  4. Determining the ROI for all involved.

In contrast, Corby sets firm global metrics, but allows individual manufacturing facilities their own say on how to achieve those goals. McKellar pointed to Hiram Walker’s distillery in Windsor, Ontario, which has a strong relationship with the community and local farmers. Purchased grains are screened for quality in terms of inputs to the end product, but also from a perspective of the quality of the future spent grains that will be re-purposed as cattle feed. Alternatively, Corby’s Campo Viejo brand focused on becoming the first carbon neutral winery in Spain.

At LoyaltyOne, sustainability measures are strongly employee-oriented. Polanco-Sorto outlined the “sustainability questions on our associate engagement survey that include whether they see LoyaltyOne as a sustainably responsible company. Our score, averaged over the last three years, has been in the mid-90 per cent!”

Partners: Reaching outside the organization

A common theme through the discussion was the need to reach outside your organization to collaborate with industry partners and your communities.

LoyaltyOne recently moved into a new office building on King Street East in Toronto. To engage with its new community, the organization took two days out to walk the streets in its neighbourhood, visiting NGOs and community leaders to find opportunities to make a meaningful impact.

EllisDon looks more to collaborations with industry partners through its Carbon Impact Initiative. The program brings together CEOs and organizations on projects, such as green buildings with Mohawk, George Brown and Centennial colleges. In addition, there is ongoing work developing an app-based carbon accounting tool to track emissions during a building’s construction.

At Corby, its commitment to volunteerism includes both mandated company activities, such as tree planting, as well as flex days where its employees can volunteer for a cause of their choosing. What all of these approaches recognize is a need to look beyond the four-walls of the business and to consider a networked approach to action on sustainability and community building.

Conclusion

Throughout the panel, we learned that an integrated sustainability plan requires both top-down direction and the willingness to listen to bottom-up innovation. Measurement is a wide-ranging area, from tracking how employees use volunteer flex-time to looking for the ROI on major infrastructure investments. Finally, reaching outside your organization and engaging with communities and collaborating with industry partners on sustainability looks to be an emerging best practice.

In a wide-ranging question period, everything from “What is sustainability?” to the changing form of CSR communications was asked. One area of consensus was generational. From this panel, the millennial generation appears to be a strong driver of change and audience for sustainability initiatives. But as sustainability plans become even more integrated across organizations and a new generation’s impact on the workforce begins to be felt, we’ll be watching to see if the generational paradigm starts to shift.