New group seeks to coordinate sustainability efforts

By Kevin Zimmerman

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Going green has been a watchword in both the personal and professional spheres for years now, but for Heather Burns, CEO of the newly launched Connecticut Sustainable Business Council, the movement needs more momentum — and organization — when it comes to doing business.

“You don’t necessarily have to look too hard to see lots of examples of sustainability and leadership around Connecticut,” the Bethel resident said. “There are all sectors and all types of business involved in one way or another with sustainability.”

The problem, Burns said, is that “too often those efforts are siloed within individual companies or individual sectors, or due to geographical factors. What we want to do is help bring them together for collaborative purposes.”

The council’s mission looks to be well underway, if its Oct. 13 launch event at the Stamford headquarters of UBS is any indication. Present were representatives of Connecticut Green Bank, Xerox, software company ESG Compass, green cleaning supply outfit EBP Supply Solutions, and White Plains-based commuter mobility services provider MetroPool — the first Westchester County nonprofit to achieve green business certification through the Westchester Green Business-Certified program. MetroPool CEO John Lyons, is chairman of the Connecticut Sustainable Business Council.

Like Connecticut Green Bank and MetroPool, Uber, the San Francisco-based rideshare service, is also a founding member of the council; its Connecticut head of marketing, Britta Mulderrig, sits on the council board, as does Connecticut Green Bank Vice President of Commercial Programs Mackey Dykes.

“I didn’t know the depth of Heather’s program until she reached out to us,” said Yvonne Hickey, general manager of the Public Sector Center of Excellence at Xerox Corp. in Norwalk. “But I’ve been impressed with how she’s assembled such a diverse group from all areas — Fortune 500 companies, small businesses, entrepreneurs. Something good is bound to happen.”

The seeds of the idea to start the Connecticut organization — whose nonprofit status is still pending, according to Burns — first came to her two years ago when she was doing consulting work for the American Sustainability Business Council. “It was through that work that I met a lot of the key players in the state, learned which individuals were leading the charge to sustainability, and what public-private partnerships were already in place and where there was opportunity for more.”

Following in the footsteps of the national organization, which also has chapters in Kentucky, New York, Ohio and West Virginia, the Connecticut group has several aims:

  • Contributing to the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions by educating the business community about the business case for energy efficiency and renewables, sustainable transportation, and other activities to reduce carbon emissions and improve air quality.
  • Creating greater market commitment and demand for sustainable procurement, including environmentally preferable products, safer chemical alternatives, ethically made products, responsibly sourced materials, and utilizing local providers whenever possible. Burns said she expects to publish a white paper on the topic, “The Business Case for Sustainable Procurement in Connecticut,” in 2017.
  • Educating and engaging small Connecticut businesses that are often suppliers to larger companies on how to leverage sustainable business practices to realize cost savings, engage and energize employees, create new revenue streams, and create competitive advantages.

Burns’ background includes serving as vice chairperson of the American National Standards Institute’s joint committee for NSF391.1, the first sustainability standard for professional services, and providing recommendations to the federal Environmental Protection Agency on the development of guidance on eco-labels and sustainability standards used in governmental procurement decisions.

She noted that her and the new council’s objective is to view sustainability “from a business strategy point of view rather than an advocacy point of view. This is about helping to drive business while creating and maintaining a sustainable economy.”

Burns said she hopes to continue to draw in businesses that are diverse in size, sector and geography. “Crossing county lines is really important,” she said. “Bringing together Fairfield, Westchester, Hartford and New Haven counties is one of our chief aims.”

The council is scheduling networking events for 2017, she added, including one in Hartford in the spring, one in New Haven in June, and another in Stamford in October.

“We hope to see more connections made that otherwise might not happen,” said Hickey. “We’re already excited that they’ve shown you can bring large and small companies and individuals together in order to lobby and push for sustainability.”

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