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November 03. 2012 11:23PM

UNH presents crash course on corporate sustainability

DURHAM - Sustainability has become more than a buzzword as businesses realize its value, both to their bottom line and in how they are viewed by consumers.

New Hampshire Businesses for Social Responsibility is offering a three-day Certificate in Corporate Sustainability program this Wednesday through Friday, in partnership with the University of New Hampshire's Whittemore School of Business & Economics and the Sustainability Academy at UNH.

Executives will be immersed in coursework, site visits and case studies that explore why sustainability matters to business, how to build a case for sustainability and how to communicate a sustainability message to internal and external stakeholders.

Stonyfield's current "CE-Yo" Walt Freese and Tom Kelly, chief sustainability officer at UNH, will team-teach a course on trends in sustainability and will explore sustainability's pertinence to businesses of all sizes.

Freese is the former CEO of Ben & Jerry's Homemade Inc. and is widely recognized as a mission-driven corporate leader. He was handpicked by Stonyfield founder Gary Hirschberg to take the helm of his company in January.

Freese said that during the institute he will talk to business leaders about what it takes to run a successful business committed to environmental sustainability at a broad level.

"We want to encourage people there not to put Stonyfield up on a pedestal. Although many consider it a best-practice company with environmental sustainability, we wrestle with the same issues other businesses do every day," Freese said.

He said although it may take a little extra initiative, research is showing that consumers are more interested in buying products from companies whose business practices they admire, and the more loyal the customers, the more profitable a business is likely to be.

Wood Turner, vice president of sustainability innovation for Stonyfield, said in the last decade the idea of sustainability has reached a certain maturity, and now there are competitive expectations related to it.

Turner said one of the messages they will share is the importance of measuring a business's current impacts.

During the institute, Turner will talk about Stonyfield's lifecycle analysis, which helps the firm with carbon accounting.

"We have been focused on measuring the impact of our business on the climate and in doing that have been able to get very, very focused on how to reduce energy use and greenhouse gas emissions that result in that energy use," Turner said.

This includes things like lighter-weight packaging and increasing their rate of recycling by 51 percent in the last six years.

"The great thing about an institute like this is sometimes you just need to plant a seed for someone in an organization," Turner said. "Sustainability can get fairly complex fairly quickly. Sometimes you just need to have someone recognize the real opportunity."

Stonyfield's website is an example of how the business tries to be a leader for others, by being transparent and detailed about its efforts toward sustainability.

"We want to serve as a vehicle for other businesses to learn from us - what we've done well, or what hadn't worked out as well as we would have liked," Freese said.

Tom Kelly, chief sustainability officer at the University of New Hampshire, said sustainability has become a key strategic win for the business world, but requires collaboration.

From a university perspective, engagement is a key component of sustainability efforts.

"So this is a way the university is partnering and engaging with the private sector and really meeting an articulated need on their part," Kelly said.

He said businesses expressed a desire for something more than a session at a conference, but less than enrolling in some kind of degree program.

Kelly said part of helping businesses that did not start out with sustainability in mind is simply providing tools.

At the end of the institute, participants will have an opportunity to undertake a capstone project in their workplace, allowing them to draw from their experience at the institute and address the practical sustainability needs of their employers.

Information about the institute is available at sustainabilitycertificate.org.


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