The green commitment

Corporate sustainability is a business
approach aimed at creating long-term value for stakeholders by implementing strategies and practices that protect and support the natural resources that
will be needed in the future. Companies
that have sustainability programs in place
embrace opportunities and manage risks
that arise from economic, environmental
and social developments.

In a rapidly changing world, now is the
time to implement a corporate sustainability strategy, says Richard Plewa, senior vice president and director of corporate sustainability for Comerica Bank.
“Global drivers, including water scarcity,
resource and food scarcity, energy security issues and climate change, are going to
transform the way that economies work.”

Smart Business spoke with Plewa about
corporate sustainability, why a growing
number of companies are embracing this
new business model and how a company
can benefit from sustainability.

What are the primary principles, or pillars, of
corporate sustainability?

The basic concept of sustainability is to
meet the needs of people today in ways
that do not compromise the ability of
future generations to meet their needs.
When you take the concept — which
comes from a 1987 United Nations commission that looked at the trade-offs
between economic development and
environmental quality — and translate it
into today’s business setting, it is clear
that business is more than just about
profits. In fact, a business’s total performance needs to be viewed as its financial
performance plus its social performance
plus its environmental performance.

Why are more and more companies embracing corporate sustainability?

The world is changing quickly. As we
look around us, we see that there are concerns about energy, national security, climate change and water and food security.
More and more people are waking up to
the reality that we have to live on the planet in a way that is different from how we
have in the past. By the middle of this century, we will have 10 billion people on this
planet — right now we have 6.7 billion
people — and there is only one earth’s
worth of resources to meet the needs of
all of these people. The resources will not
go very far unless we learn to use them
very differently. We can’t afford the wastefulness; we can’t afford to continue pumping greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. Recent advances in science have
enabled us to see that ecosystems all over
the planet are already in decline. As people wake up to this reality, businesses are
waking up to the reality that people and
businesses have new needs, and we need
to offer new products, services and solutions to help people live in this world of
resource constraints and accelerating climate change.

How should a company go about formulating
a sustainability strategy?

You need to take a good look at your
stakeholders — customers, employees,
host communities, suppliers and those
who provide capital to your business —
and you need to understand how your
business model and the products and
services that you provide are going to be
impacted by the global changes we are
facing. Having figured that out, you need
to think about how the organization
should respond to those challenges. What
will shake out of the analysis is a list of
priorities for action that is going to enable
you to manage the risks of operating in
this new world and drive the way you
decide to pursue opportunities.

How can a business benefit from sustainability?

Businesses that take sustainability seriously are going to be better managers
long-term of both risk and opportunity.
This means that they will be able to create
value for their shareholders and other
stakeholders by reducing costs, reducing
risks, growing revenues and improving
their brand and company reputation.
Having a sustainability program in place
also helps to both attract and retain high-quality employees who care about which
companies they work for and want to do
more than just generate wealth — they
also want to make the world a better
place while they do it. A company with a
sustainability program tends to attract
young creatives and set loose a wave of

Why is it so important to emphasize actions
rather than words when it comes to corporate

It is important to walk the talk because
a good many people are justifiably skeptical about claims that aren’t matched with
deeds. In fact, the term ‘greenwashing’
refers to companies jumping on the bandwagon of the green movement without
doing the deep work of changing the kind
of company they are and making a substantive commitment.

RICHARD PLEWA is senior vice president and director of corporate sustainability for Comerica Bank. Reach him at (734) 930-2401 or
[email protected].