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Attending Raleigh Chamber’s First Sustainability Conference

As I have started my new role as the program manager of the Business Sustainability Collaborative here at Poole College of Management at NC State, one of my major priorities in supporting our initiative is through enhancing my own knowledge of business sustainability and what is happening across the Triangle. On Wednesday, March 29, 2023 I had the opportunity to attend the first sustainability conference hosted by the Raleigh Chamber at the Raleigh Convention Center. I was able to join regional business executives, elected officials, and community leaders for an important conversation focused on sustainability for the Research Triangle region. This conference also highlighted corporate companies leading their industries in sustainability practices and collaborations to create an environmentally, socially, and economically sustainable future for Raleigh and the region. Here are some takeaways from this encouraging event. 

North Carolina’s Culture of Community Support and Collaboration 

One of the first things I noticed when walking into the conference was the number of people in the room! There were well over 200 folks all representing businesses and organizations throughout the triangle, all focused on sustainability for our community both locally and globally. Large companies such as Lenovo were represented at the conference all the way to the local mayor of Morrisville. It was encouraging to visually see my local community really is working toward helping people and the planet and a testament to the collaboration and community support in this state. One exciting outcome of the conference was the official launch of the sustainability roundtable formed by FUJIFILM Diosynth Biotechnologies, Wake County Government, NC State University, and the Raleigh Chamber. NC State’s very own Associate Vice Chancellor of Partnerships, Mark Schmidt, facilitated the roundtable and launch of this initiative with the goal of partnering to create innovation, mentorship, placemaking and impact in the area of sustainability all across the triangle. One of the panelists mentioned “sustainability is not competitive, if you succeed we can all succeed”. Another testament to the power our state holds in collaboration and doing good for the sake of our entire state.

How Corporations are Tackling the Challenges of Climate Change through ESG Initiatives

The conference had an impressive lineup of speakers from various triangle corporate companies that included, Lenovo, SAS, and John Deere. Each company was leading in corporate sustainability best practices in their respective industries. For example, Lenovo was one of the first PC and smartphone companies to set net zero targets that were validated by science based target initiatives. Additionally, they are building products and even product processes with sustainability in mind. John Deere mentioned some mind blowing and cost saving innovations such as exact shot fertilizer technology, and see and spray tools to eliminate killing healthy crops and only extracting weeds in large industrial farms. SAS went all the way back to when their office was located on NC State’s campus on Hillsborough street and mentioned how they still have documentation of one of the leading employees asking others to recycle their computer cards (I had to google what a computer card is, but wow). Each company had a comprehensive sustainability strategy and goals, and each one mentioned how these changes are coming directly from their customer. The technology advancements we have today are what we can use to help mitigate the harm done to our planet. 

Optimism and Enthusiasm for the Future and the Next Generation

David Knight from John Deere said “climate change is one of the biggest challenges currently facing the human population, but I am enthusiastic about the opportunity to overcome these challenges with the tools, technology, and brilliant people we have today”. He is right. The world has advanced so much and we do have the technology and expertise to combat climate change. It also presents a unique opportunity for businesses to become more competitive on a global scale and to improve their businesses and cost savings. The conference ended with a representative from the EPA who has traveled to almost every single county in North Carolina. He has found the unique spirit of collaboration and problem solving across North Carolina and while there are still environmental challenges within our state, he wants to keep our beautiful state as clean and healthy as possible for both people and the planet.

How my Key Takeaways will Inform me in my New Role

I am glad I got to attend this conference as it will help inform the work I am doing at the Business Sustainability Collaborative. I noticed throughout the conference that many corporations present were quite focused on the Environment part of ESG. Having experienced working within a corporate setting, I found often Environmental, Social and Governance functions within corporations are sometimes separated organizationally. While it is great to see that corporations are investing heavily into all three of these areas, they are all very interconnected. This is why at the Business Sustainability Collaborative we use the B Impact framework when evaluating companies under ESG performance. The impact assessment balances the interconnections of environment, social and governance in a way that looks at sustainability from a more holistic lens. Overall, I am encouraged to see so many corporations’ passion and innovation to improve the future of our people and planet and I am keeping these companies in mind as potential future employers for our NC State students as we are working to build out more sustainability focused career resources.

I left this conference very grateful and inspired. One because I know companies are truly investing money into sustainability, but two really proud of the state of North Carolina where I get to live and work. “Where there is action there is hope” said Jerry Williams from SAS . Well done to the Raleigh Chamber and I am looking forward to attending the 2nd annual Sustainability conference in 2024!