UNC Kenan-Flagler Sustainability Blog

“Hope is a verb with its sleeves rolled up.” Takeaways from SJF Summit on the New Green Economy

October 4, 2010 By Jessica Thomas
Today’s post is a re-post of a blog from AJ Dye (MBA ’11).  For more reflection and speculation from AJ check out his blog, AJ’s Greatest Hits, which focuses on “sustainability, private equity and venture capital, among other topics.”

Originally published September 22, 2010
Last week I attended the 2nd annual SJF Summit on the New Green Economy, a gathering of dynamic practitioners sharing their strategies and best practices for success in the new green economy.  The Summit featured a number of inspiring keynote speakers including Bruce Kahn from Deutsche Bank Climate Change Advisors, Dr. Robert Wallace, from BITHENERGY, Bruce Usher from Columbia University (former CEO of EcoSecurities), Anne Claire Broughton from SJF Institute, and David W. Orr from Oberlin College.

Focused on Accelerating Growth and Impact, the Summit hosted panels on topics ranging from cleantech investing to carbon policy.  My key takeaways are as follows:

  • Sustainability is a lens through which opportunities should be viewed, not a sector. I find this concept particularly powerful in the context of advancing the business case for sustainable enterprise.  I would argue that the majority of mainstream business leaders are under the impression that “going green” requires a fundamental change to a company’s business model or industry.  But through a lens perspective, the pursuit of a sustainability-focused project may be considerably more palatable and easier to support.  Moreover, this versatile lens can be applied to all sectors of the economy.
  • Partnerships are critically important. Dr. Robert Wallace gave an inspiring keynote address underscoring the value of partnerships.  Given the altruistic nature of sustainable business, this value is magnified when groups are working together toward a common goal.  A project where the whole is greater than sum of the parts has tremendous potential. 
  • Cleantech CEOs are faced with a unique challenge. Leaders of cleantech companies must operate at the intersection of policy, technology and finance.  This junction requires a uniquely broad and refined skill set.
  • Climate change requires a coordinated and nuanced message. David Orr from Oberlin College offered a poignant quote: “If your doctor told you that a) you are high risk for a heart attack, b) you need to lose 50 pounds, and c) improve your diet, would you dismiss it or get a second opinion?  Then why do we do that with the health of planet and climate change?”

Our challenge in relaying the seriousness and significance of climate change revolves around its roots in science.  Science lacks emotion and relies upon too many assumptions and probabilities.  In contrast, it was easy to put a human face on Communism and portray it as an enemy.  With climate change, that tactic isn’t an option and job creation, while beneficial, doesn’t stir anyone into action.  Climate change will define my generation as a global problem that threatens our way of life and we must do what we can to inspire talented people to act.

My favorite quote from the Summit, courtesy of David Orr: “Hope is a verb with its sleeves rolled up.”  If we’re going to make an impact on climate change, people need to be right at the inflection point where they are hopeful enough to go and do something to create change.

Overall, the Summit was a tremendous event and I recommend it to anyone interested in building a new economy focused on the triple bottom line.