Change Agents Wear White Hats: Leveraging Expert Partners to Improve Corporate Environmental Strategy
There has never been a better time for industries with a big environmental footprint to step up their integrated environmental and social actions and to align those outcomes with the business bottom line, corporate commitments, and improved public relations. Whether you embrace the idea of a “sustainable economy” or not, a growing percentage of the public does. Modern consumers are savvier; hip to greenwashing and ready to vote with their dollars to show their love to corporations who invest in measurable, innovative, effective resource conservation. If you ever considered re-tooling your company’s approach to environmental asset management, congratulations! You would be one of an increasing number of early innovators to gain from a trend that shows no sign of diminishing--ever. There really has never been a better time to step up and better yet, lead.
Along with increasing public and legislative scrutiny there also exist better tools for actionable performance-based environmental outcomes that are meaningful to your business. Performance-based outcomes, including private environmental market solutions, are the under-utilized but innovative and diverse solution to corporate environmental compliance torpor. These options bring tremendous potential for companies to improve their impact legacy, innovate change, do good for communities where they operate and beyond. Markets can be leveraged to improve or sustain biodiversity, improve water quality, counter climate effects, and can also result in improved stakeholder relationships. They offer opportunity to align with environmental regulations that corporations must comply with anyway. These private, performance-based approaches, augmented by environmental market drivers, result in corporate success as a legitimate hero and not a greenwashing zero.
We are increasingly capable of sustaining and advancing our business enterprises through exemplary, purpose-driven environmental outcomes. If you want to drive this change through your leadership role within your respective industries, you are going to want to equip yourself with essential outside help and get moving. Creekbank Associates is an agile group of independent professional advisors and technical experts comprised of regulatory specialists, scientists, attorneys, research analysts, market and project developers — who believe that good business practice and profit can align with real-world environmental outcomes. We develop private sector solutions through regulatory, voluntary, and sustainability metrics and markets to deliver client performance objectives at multiple scales in diverse industries. Through our team of dedicated senior affiliates, we leverage like-minded experts to meet your integrated business and environmental needs.
Wonks, Eggheads, and Suits
Compliance conservation activities, undertaken by businesses, are driven by environmental regulations but rarely connected with corporate stewardship objectives outside of the obligations. The objective is to comply with existing regulations (which are often confusing and even at cross-purposes to each other) without sacrificing profit margin or market share. The underpinnings of this approach can often be a bare-minimum mentality, overseen by one employee or a small team within the company. Voluntary resource stewardship and community stakeholder activities which are typically seen as qualitative rather than quantitative outcomes, but in fact they can be both. All of these activity types are essential to your enterprise’s near and long-term social license to operate. Internal (fiduciaries, staff, strategic partners) and external (investors, consumers, governments) stakeholders are looking at your corporate commitments and your performance in achieving them. With the advent of private environmental markets and performance-based outcome funds, robust new ways are opening up to not just comply with regulations but actually make conservation initiative a contributor to the bottom line. This new approach is three-pronged, drawing equally from the policy, science, and financial sectors. Deep and current ecosystem services expertise in each of these areas is a long shot for almost any company, but there is a better way: alignment with an expert advisory group that has the capacity to also serve as your strategic implementation and delivery partner.
Advisory groups specialize in bespoke team creation, focused on solutions that are simultaneously broader and more exacting than what many companies can create from internal resources or have access to from traditional contractors. Because contemporary solutions often involve the business of the land, deep expertise in environmental policy and regulation, strong science, and market-based solutions must be harnessed in order to drive progress – simultaneously developing supply and demand. This requires experienced professionals from extremely diverse disciplines, or as we at Creekbank Associates sometimes nickname ourselves, wonks, eggheads, and suits. Assembling the best and the brightest in policy, science, and environmental markets creates amazing possibilities--a word I like to use is “agile”-- in that the team can take any shape and be equally innovative across the spectrum of natural capital investments – on retainer for on demand advisement, as independent reviewers, as project developers and implementers, or as strategic investment partners. Engagements evolve, and this format can evolve with any project-- from evaluation to budgeting, from resourcing to networking, ecological restoration to community dimensions. Add to that the real-world advantage of a bigger network and perspective afforded by associates who circulate in their own professional realm.
Forget Kumbayah – Think Methods, Metrics, and Markets
Companies with a large physical environmental footprint--mining, agriculture, energy, and development, to name a few--face significant hurdles. Culturally, collateral environmental impact has been accepted as “the cost of doing business.” Shareholders might hear “sustainable economy” as greenspeak for “generate less revenue.” Buying into this perspective is the easy way, but it demonstrates a huge lack of understanding of the potential of the resource assets that are on your company’s books and the endurance of its social license to operate.
Where the shareholder mandate falls short is the assumption that environmental asset performance solutions are not quantifiable, durable, or worth the effort to the business. However, in the professional worlds of the wonks, the eggheads, and the suits, these are untapped, intertwined, economic and ecological opportunities that are located under the hood of current operations. Increasingly, real money valuation has been bestowed on anything related to what the natural world offers us humans, categorized as ecosystem services: clean water, species of concern, biodiversity, wetlands and streams, climate effects, carbon sequestration, resiliency, and the acknowledgement of the value of the people to these places including recreation, indigenous heritage, education, and community relations. And all this can be linked to performance-based outcomes, and some can be linked to market drivers, you just have to know how to do it (suits). Understanding the complex interplay of ecosystems and keeping them viable or restoring them is quantifiable (eggheads), as is knowing how to parlay these activities into regulatory compliance and other legal and financial benefits (wonks). For any of these strategies to be embraced and effective, they must be measurable and commercially viable. But what does that look like?
The shape of environmental market solutions looks vastly different depending on many factors: the actions under consideration; available local ecosystem assets and needs; stakeholders involved, mitigation opportunities in other markets that can be tied in; company locations, needs, and financial priorities. The first step is a little bit of catch-22: What are the applicable opportunities, and what is the rationale for undertaking any/each? This is where the trained eyes and ears of your expert advisor partners begin to assemble a roadmap of environmental asset opportunities and rate them according to company needs and project value. Where are the cost-offsetting savings, incentives, and revenue streams hiding? Often more than one financial benefit can be realized as the pieces begin to align: tax incentives and regulatory alignment; ecological uplift and improved stakeholder relations; water quality improvements and a trading marketplace; carbon sequestration and forestry production; nature recreation access and restored streams; endangered species restoration and native habitat preservation, just to name a few options.
Progressive is as Progressive Does
I see this to be an unbelievably dynamic and positive time as innovative, progressive companies are seeking to be positioned on the front edge of environmental and social progress as a vital component of their long run business strategy. People, place, and profitability are integral, integrated functions to successful, enduring business institutions--People are inseparable from place and both are inseparable from profit. Cultural and ecological context are central to efforts of these sorts; place always exists—but how people understand it is constantly shifting. This shifting of understanding is appropriate; just as our human understandings are dynamic, so are ecological systems. Therefore, how we profit from our relationship to place must also be dynamic. We are at the cusp of a new era in environmental understanding, one that advances a triple bottom line of people, place, and profit.
If you believe in the “triple bottom line” as I do, you are probably looking for ways to take decisive, effective actions now. Resource conservation stewardship is a powerful tool by which corporations can realize profit and/or offset costs while improving their practices and their footprint; it’s a benchmark by which they will be judged by potential clients and partners, as well as the public at large, as we go forward. Expert advisory groups like Creekbank Associates are positioned to work with industry change agents to integrate best possible solutions in a commercially viable way, while companies that ignore, underestimate, or misread the growing mandate for better resource conservation stewardship are rapidly seen as an outdated model. Even John Elkington, the originator of the “Triple Bottom Line” phrase, says “it is time to step up--or get out of the way.”1 Which direction will you choose?
1John Elkington, Harvard Business Review June 25, 2018
Jody L. Bickel, Creekbank Associates, Chief Executive Officer