Going beyond green: The many roads to sustainability

Sustainability is not just about the environment. It also has to do with leveraging opportunities to succeed in a rapidly-evolving business world.

Traditionally, sustainability has been primarily associated with being “green.” But, it also has a life beyond that definition. Today, it is used just as often to refer to the ways in which an organization manages its financial, social and environmental risks and opportunities — sometimes referred to as profits, people and planet.

Every department and system — from HR to finance — can contribute to an organization’s sustainability. It’s no longer just about recycling and reusing. In today’s world, being sustainable means being nimble enough to embrace rapid-fire change, on multiple fronts. This is a core requirement for an organization’s long-term success, and one that CPAs can help instill.

At The ONE National Conference in Halifax, our speakers will unpack several sustainability rubrics.

Sustainable strategy

To a large extent, sustainability hinges on an organization’s ability to innovate. But to be truly innovative, an organization needs a proper strategy. It also needs to be aware of current developments that could become springboards for new ideas. Julien Smith, a New York Times bestselling author and CEO of Breather, will reveal why the prevailing strategies for innovation and disruption aren't enough. “As a company grows and becomes older, it has to, by definition, become adaptable or it dies,” says Smith.

The single biggest trend for CPAs is AI and machine learning,” says Duncan Stewart, co-author of Deloitte’s annual Predictions report. Stewart will discuss the trends in tech, media and telecom that are most relevant to CPAs in all industries.

Resilience and agility

Whatever changes the future may bring, they are likely to be disruptive and affect many organizational systems at the same time. In this respect, sustainability means ensuring all systems have enough built-in flexibility to cope with the impact. It also means preparing employees to embrace change. Wendy R. Carroll, director of the EMBA Program and associate professor at the Sobey School of Business at Saint Mary's University, will examine practical strategic frameworks that can be used to evaluate an organization’s agility. Jennifer Gervès-Keen, owner of JGK Consulting, will look at how to build employees’ resilience.

Renewal and transformation

Since organizations are made up of individuals, there is a natural connection between personal and organizational sustainability. In other words, just as an organization can build its sustainability by becoming more adaptable, so can a person. And this can set the stage for renewal and transformation. Kai Kight, a contemporary violinist and inspirational speaker, will use his own transformation from classical violinist to innovative composer to provide tips on how to adapt with resiliency in times of disruption.

Don’t forget the environment

While sustainability has come to refer to the many ways in which an organization can ensure its survival and long-term success, it is still very much in use in the environmental sphere. Here, it often refers to avoiding the depletion of natural resources and building sustainable communities. “One of the beautiful things [about sustainability] is that it doesn’t have a precise definition,” says Dr. Sarah Burch, Canada research chair in sustainability governance and innovation, University of Waterloo. “I know that can be frustrating from a business perspective, but it also forces us to imagine what sustainability means. What kind of future do we want, and how do we want to get there?”

In Burch’s view, many of the technologies needed to pursue a sustainable future have existed for decades. Yet experiments in low-carbon communities remain scattered. Burch will look at what it will take to move toward developing sustainable communities, building on progress that has already been made. She will also look at the crucial role accountants can play in tracking, accelerating and making visible sustainability experiments.

The ONE conference , taking place October 1-2, 2018, will focus on the theme of “Sustainability through Adaptability.” Find out more about how the ONE conference can help you build your own sustainability quotient – and help organizations do so as well.


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