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How Partnerships Can Drive Sustainable Development in Organizations

Laura Thompson, PhD, Director of Sustainability and Policy Initiatives, Sappi North America

SOURCE: Sappi North America


Earlier this month, I had the opportunity to moderate a Facebook Live panel during the United States Business Council for Sustainable Development (USBCSD) Conference at Duke University.

At Sappi North America, we wanted to bring something new to the event, and to do so we knew we needed to curate a panel of engaging professionals in the sustainability space, so we decided to sponsor the Facebook Live session. We had the immediate support of Chad Pregracke, Founder and President of Living Lands and Waters (LL&W). Chad and I have worked together on numerous projects and I knew his passion would resonate during a live session. For those that aren’t familiar with his organization, LL&W has worked on 23 rivers and, with the help of over 98,000 volunteers, they’ve removed 9.2 million pounds of trash and debris from U.S. waterways.

Chad was attending the conference to present with John Bradburn, Global Waste Reduction Manager for General Motors (GM), on the impact of partnerships on corporate sustainability. John has an impressive resume himself, having helped lead GM to over 139 landfill-free facilities around the world, and transform common manufacturing wastes into new car parts for GM vehicles, among other innovative solutions. When John agreed to join the panel, we knew that we’d have an electric conversation on the state of sustainability in the US and the solutions companies like GM, LL&W and Sappi are creating.

You can watch the full Facebook Live discussion on Sappi North America’s Facebook page here.

As the moderator, I have a few key takeaways that I thought are worth sharing for a broader perspective on the state of sustainability, and how we, as individuals and companies, can make a difference.

Waste is a Resource That’s Out of Place

Now more than ever we need to see opportunities for growth and innovation from waste streams. John said it best when he explained that we need to start seeing things for what they can become and to imagine manufacturing by-products as raw materials that are simply displaced. It’s so important to think creatively when developing solutions. For instance, both Sappi and GM have found ways to use worn out tires that would normally end up in landfills.

At Sappi we use tires as an alternative fuel source – reducing our consumption of oil and gas, while GM has developed a new supply chain and is making new car parts from old tires.

Think Big and Get It Done

No matter the size of your organization (or just looking to set personal goals), think big! Chad never limited his thinking when, as a teenager piloting a small fishing skiff, he set out to clean up the Mississippi River. This same motto of “think big, act small” can be applied to any organization. Set aspirations and goals that seem difficult to reach and then work to meet them. For example, when Chad decided to establish a tree planting project, he immediately set a goal of planting one million trees. When GM was establishing waste goals, John didn’t look for incremental improvements but rather set out to achieve zero waste.  Whether we are picking up one bottle at a time, or working on one waste stream at a plant, the cumulative effects can be enormous.

Don’t Do It Alone

Whether you enlist the support of your colleagues or partner with outside organizations, even seemingly overwhelming sustainability goals can be achieved through collaboration. LL&W and GM are a great example of the increased impact that a partnership can have on a company’s sustainability initiatives. At Sappi, we are supporting the efforts of the Recycling Partnership and the Sustainable Packaging Coalition, to improve curbside recycling. By bringing expertise to bear through public/private partnerships we are working with municipalities across the US to make a difference – increasing volume and reducing contamination.  Again, because these materials are the starting point for another supply chain – it is important not to lose sight of the quality of this resource.

In your own organization, tap into people’s desire to do good and find experiences among your people that can contribute to the company’s innovative solutions. Make sustainability fun by organizing events, clean ups, and drives that don’t feel like work.

On an individual level? We can each make a difference by “voting with our wallets”. Being a conscious consumer means being purposeful with our purchase choices and opting for products made by responsible suppliers. If we are cognizant of our own consumption and evaluate packaging options, we can help reduce waste that is put out into the world.  And by recycling effectively, we can make sure that materials are put back in use. Being mindful our everyday lives leads to cumulative change over time.

I encourage you to watch the full Facebook Live video, as well as follow LL&W and GM as they continue their work to better our environment and limit the negative impacts of humans and businesses.

And don’t forget – caps on when recycling plastic bottles!

Tweet me: .@eqlaurathompson discusses key #sustainability takeaways from #FacebookLive with @LLandW & @GM at @USBCSD:

KEYWORDS: Events, Conferences & Webinars, Environment & Climate Change, Sappi, Living Lands and Waters, General Motors, sustainability, Environmentalism, USBCSD, forestry, Recycling, Innovation, paper, pulp

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