1. How can businesses contribute to effective, integrated public policy on the right issues?
Building sound public policy on environmental issues is undeniably complex. But the uncertainty created by governments’ failure to act compounds companies’ existing planning challenges. Canadian companies still await decisions from government regarding issues like carbon pricing, a national cap-and-trade system for greenhouse gas emissions or feed-in tariffs for new energy generation sources within individual provinces. They also await clarity around the intersection of environmental policy with energy, economic and social policy. As a result of this inertia, companies refrain from investing in new technologies and training staff in new standards and procedures – or they are forced to make educated guesses regarding the ultimate impacts of policy.
“How do you create resilient business strategy despite a lack of clear, integrated public policy? We want to be ahead of the curve instead of reacting to sudden regulatory changes.”
In areas where governments have overcome inertia and created energy, economic and social policies, those policies often conflict with each other at the municipal, provincial and federal levels. Not only does such conflict place large human resource demands on companies trying to comply with multiple and conflicting policies – it also makes it impossible for companies to educate consumers about responsible use of their products and services. For example, in different cities in the same province, consumers might be expected to recycle the same paper coffee cup four different ways: in one city, both the cup and lid are recyclable; in another, both the lid and cup are recyclable but through different streams; in another city, the cup is recyclable but not the lid; and in the last city, both cup and lid must go to landfill.
“How do you create resilient business strategy despite a lack of clear, integrated public policy?” said Grete Bridgewater of Canadian Pacific. “We want to be ahead of the curve instead of reacting to sudden regulatory changes.”
“It’s not an issue of how companies should deal with climate change – it’s about how to deal with governments not sending clear signals on climate change policy,” said Luc Robitaille of Holcim (Canada). “It’s hard to invest in equipment and training if we don’t know which way the government will move and when.”
2. How can companies best engage value chain, industry and NGO partners to achieve sustainability goals?
Effective collaboration can help accelerate sustainability across a value chain or industry. Companies can do everything possible to improve their environmental and social impacts within their operations, but their absolute measure of sustainable performance depends upon the actions of suppliers, distributors and all other members of their value chains. Business leaders are frustrated at failed or nonexistent partnerships with industry peers or environmental organizations: “Big brands need to share best practices and solve mutual sustainability problems,” said Tim Faveri of Tim Hortons. “If other organizations see no value in collaborating – and they’re buying from the same suppliers as us – how can we advance the sustainability agenda?”
“It’s not enough for individual companies to commit to a life-cycle perspective. Those companies need support from partners up and down the value chain to improve the sustainability of their products and services.”
A number of industry initiatives prove that organizations can partner to address sustainability challenges. Examples include the Forest Stewardship Council and the Marine Stewardship Council internationally and Responsible Care and Canada’s Oil Sands Innovation Alliance (COSIA) nationally. Established in March 2012, COSIA represents a public pledge by 12 of the largest companies operating in the oil sands to actively share intellectual property and expertise to reduce their industry’s environmental impacts. This includes innovations related to tailings ponds, water management, land reclamation and greenhouse gas emissions.
Research Topic: Collaboration
In 2013, NBS will investigate how organizations can engage value chain, industry and NGO partners in sustainable goals. With a Guidance Committee consisting of academic experts and Canadian business leaders, NBS will find the best research team in the world and lead them through a comprehensive review of the leading research on this topic. For more information on how NBS develops authoritative resources on the issues that matter to business, read the section “Addressing the Challenges."