Thoughts on the 2010 Net Impact Conference

Last weekend, I attended the annual Net Impact conference, hosted by the Ross School of Business (University of Michigan). It was my second time. Overall it was a good conference. I had a chance to listen to some of the leaders in the green business community talk about their role and efforts to in grain sustainability principles into their organization’s mission. Two things that stood out to me were the amount of work we have remaining to make triple bottom line approach the new norm, and the need to blend quantitative and qualitative approach.

During one of the keynotes I listened to Kim Jeffery (the man who shaped the bottle water market) and William McDonough (architect/consultant on developing cradle-to-cradle system) discuss the benefits of and the challenges facing the bottled water companies. Mr. Jeffery identified the challenge of making the industry’s supply chain sustainable by creating a cradle-to-cradle system that is able to fully recycle or up-cycle the plastic water bottles. He stated that the bottled water industry has given the customers a healthier option to competing beverages such as carbonated soft drinks. Although, I do not see bottled water as a good option in developed urban areas with access to safe drinking water, this market will not disappear over night. Besides there are benefits to bottled water, as Mr. McDonough stated, in underdeveloped regions such as Africa and India, where clean drinking water is not easily accessible. Therefore it is vital that the bottled water industry find effective solutions that will address the material waste from the consumed products. The challenge is how do you get CEOs like Jeffery’s to look address the issues with an open mind and truly embrace a triple bottom line approach? How do we nudge him to move beyond the single bottom line of profitability through continuous growth?

In another session I listened to an artist, a movie director, and a social entrepreneur speak about their success (mostly) and failure in driving social action and sustainability through art. When asked what skills are required from leaders to drive social change, they stated that the leaders of tomorrow will have to be capable of inspiring and motivating others. They have to be tolerant, patient, empathic, and compassionate. To nudge the current business leaders towards a triple bottom line approach, we need to blend the quantitative focused decision-making with more qualitative measures. You cannot measure the social and environmental benefits in monetary terms only.

Congratulation to the Ross Net Impact chapter for an amazing job of organizing this event. I am looking forward to the next conference in 2011. There should be more opportunities to engage and nudge the current business leaders on creating a triple bottom line focused organizations. It is critical that the gap between quantitative and qualitative analysis is closed.


About John Costa

I am a farmer in training with a background in finance, organizational sustainability, and project management. My expertise is making the business case for local food enterprises.
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