One of the best parts about working to make the world a greener place is the opportunity to learn from others that share our vision. This week, we spoke with Mary Rose and Karl Ostrom – executive directors at the Network for Business Innovation and Sustainability (NBIS) of Seattle, Washington – about its latest ventures in sustainability.
Mary and Karl founded NBIS in 2003 with a mission of guiding regional businesses, across sectors and industries, towards best practices that create healthy ecosystems and prosperous communities through the power of business. Over the past year alone, NBIS has made a significant difference.
NBIS’ By-Product Synergy NW, is a long-running initiative bringing companies together to reuse and repurpose waste into new products. In conjunction with this, NBIS has developed an online portal, the Materials Innovation Exchange, which provides users an outlet to sell, buy, trade or donate a variety of products ranging from heavy-duty industrial equipment and chemicals to fabrics, plastic and wood. The Materials Innovation Exchange helps turn waste to revenue by showcasing innovative reuse strategies for unneeded materials.
“We’ve been working with business leaders on new strategies for accelerating sustainability to reduce impact,” said Mary. A recent whitepaper by Karl, New Challenges Reshaping Corporate Social Responsibility, highlights the importance of this work and urges all businesses to incorporate visionary benchmarks of environmentally and socially responsible business performance into their frameworks.
“The goal is to illustrate the need for more aggressive sustainability leadership to move beyond incrementalism. We aren’t going fast enough and we’re not having the impact that the planet needs,” Mary continued.
Leading responsible businesses doesn’t come without its challenges. Mary stated the need for collective and collaborative strategies to break down common barriers, such as the: “race to the bottom – the pressure for lower prices, lower wages, and all the pressures that keep companies from taking full responsibility for their impacts.”
Karl shed light on the damaging anti-regulatory mindset of many companies, “They need regulation to level the playing field when it comes to getting rid of toxic chemicals or lowering carbon footprints in supply chains. They really need to learn to work together to lobby government for policies that make sustainability the profitable thing to do. Instead of rewarding the people that externalize environmental and social impacts, the marketplace uniformly needs to allow everybody to do the right thing without reducing their own competitive advantage. Everybody can win, but it requires a different mindset.”
NBIS advice? Build strong relationships, learn from each other and showcase sustainable success. Developing business coalitions to address challenges collectively is the foundation for innovative, win-win solutions.