Environmental accountability, metric the focus at Sustainability How? conference

sustainability-conference-humber-speakers Humber hosted its first sustainability conference and welcomed guest speakers (left to right) Lindsay Walker, Nadine Gudz, Jeremy Runnals, Wade Davis. Co-existence of business objectives and sustainability goals was theme at last week’s Lakeshore campus meet. Photo by Marlon Gomez

CORRECTION: The event was originally attributed to Public Relations students. It was organized with the help of Humber’s Event Management postgraduate students.

Marlon Gomez
Biz/Tech Reporter

Humber College’s School of Business gathered industry leaders at a conference last Wednesday to talk about bridging the gap between social, economic and environmental sustainability.

The discussion at Lakeshore campus was centered on business and sustainability, and whether the two can co-exist.

Organized with the help of Humber’s Event Management postgraduate students, the event espoused the larger goal of convincing the corporate sector to conduct business and make decisions while keeping the environment in mind.

“Humber has sustainability as one of the six values as a college and institution. Our recent strategic plan has to imbed and want to imbed sustainability in all of our decision making,” said Lindsay Walker, Humber’s Sustainability Manager, during the conference.

The idea to hold the gathering came from business students and faculty who were constantly talking about this topic in various courses, she said.

Humber was recently awarded a silver medal in the Sustainability Tracking Assessment Rating System (STARS), said Walker. The STARS program is run by the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education.

“STARS allowed us to get a metric of what we’re doing in every area of sustainability. The environment, operations, social and as well as our economic side of things,” she said.

Humber is the first college in Ontario and the third in Canada to be awarded the silver rating, she said.

Nadine Gudz was the first of three speakers to talk at the conference. Gudz is the director of sustainability strategy at InterfaceFLOR Canada Inc.

The company is the world’s largest designer and maker of carpet tile.

InterfaceFLOR positions itself as one of the leading companies in the world to implement the environment into their business models and decisions.

“It’s very much wrapped up in the identity of the company at this point. Many would say it’s ingrained in the company’s DNA,” said Gudz.

In particular, InterfaceFLOR has made carpet materials that are inspired by natural systems such as moss.

With help and close partnerships with its suppliers, in 2007 the firm was the first to make carpets from recycled nylon, said Gudz.

“Right now we have products that have about 80 to 85 per cent total recycled content,” she said.

The second speaker of the day focused on the social approach of sustainability.

Jeremy Runnalls, managing editor of Corporate Knights magazine talked about the sustainable rankings list that they publish every year.

Since 2005 the magazine has published a ranking of the world’s top 100 most sustainable corporations.

“We want to make sure corporations are disclosing what we view as key performance indicators. So their energy use and carbon use, but beyond that things like the average worker to CEO pay ratio,” said Runnalls.

Runnels said they look at 3,000 to 4,000 employers before determining this list.

The keynote speaker for the day was Wade Davis, a well known Canadian anthropologist and ethnobotanist.

Davis is also known for his books, The Serpent and the Rainbow, The Wayfinders and River Notes, among others.

During his talk he shared experiences from Northern British Columbia as a park ranger and hunting guide where he lived with Tahltan elders for years.

Davis brought up the example of Shell Canada wanting to extract methane gas near the sacred headwaters in the province.

“Fortunately, Shell realized in their corporate wisdom that there are some places that should be left alone,” said Davis.

However, Davis used this example highlight the problem that exists when people begin to make very impacting decisions on environments that they barely know or understand.

“But as long as you can guarantee the government a flow of revenue, some form of taxation or royalties, you can secure for your own private interest and those who are with you, the rights to transform a valley for all time,” said Davis.

The Humber School of Business is hoping to make this an annual event and aspires to seeing these passionate discussions expand even after the conferences are done.