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Ohio Company a Global Leader in Corporate Sustainability

Ohio Environmental Council, June 18, 2013

On June 11, the Ohio State University’s Environmental Professionals Network hosted a presentation by Scott Griffin, Chief Sustainability Officer of Greif, Inc

The lecture, titled “A Future Without Tradeoffs – Greif’s Pathway to Sustainability,” highlighted Greif’s corporate sustainability, and the importance of corporate sustainability in growing modern economies. The discussion also included a brief overview of Greif’s own journey towards corporate responsibility.

Greif has made significant progress reducing its own environmental impact, while this progress is good for the economy, they have also had a positive impact on the company’s revenue, making them more financially sustainable as well.  

One way the company has achieved this is a shift towards a “sustainability in action” program. This model seeks solutions to humanitarian problems by opening new commercial markets with technological innovation and strategic partnerships.

As a global business, Greif is keenly aware of emerging demographic trends. With global population increasing at a rapid pace (the human population will reach 8 billion in only thirteen more years), Greif has begun implementing the kinds of efforts that will become increasingly important in a resource-constrained world.

While in the past there has been a focus on conducting business in and within the so-called “triad” of Western Europe, USA, and Japan, Griffin pointed out that the populations within those nations are decreasing.

Currently, the producers far outnumber the consumers within these economies. Meanwhile, emerging economies encompass more than half of the global Gross Domestic Product (GDP).

The second-largest economy in the world is the informal economy within what is often referred to as the Least Developed Countries (LDCs). While these vibrant economies often rely on conventional economic principals, Griffin suggests that the “lessons of the past” are not as relevant as they used to be.

Moving forward, companies that are looking to grow will need to balance both their environmental impact, and figure out how to operate in these developing economies.

Competing in a Resource-Constrained World

Companies seeking an assessment of their environmental impact can conduct Ecosystems Services Reviews. An ESR helps a company to identify risks and develop strategies to improve the ecosystem in which they operate. These audits look at a company’s products within the supply chain and beyond to identify future vulnerabilities and give companies a set of metrics for prioritizing changes, whether to a product or the process in which it’s made.  

By examining this data and finding ways to understand and engage in the informal economies of the developing world, Grief is striking a balance that will be critical for companies moving forward.

Although there is still a long way to go, promising efforts by rapidly growing countries such as China and India are joining Japan and other developed nations in a movement towards more sustainable economic models. Korea, for example, devotes 80% of economic stimulus towards its green sector.

In comparison to other global competitors, the United States is severely lagging in the implementation of sustainable business practices. Moving forward, Griffin says collaboration is critical to creating a sustainable world.  

Afterall, as the World Business Council for Sustainable Development, a CEO-led group of global corporations and organizations (including Greif) working towards a sustainable economy says, “Businesses cannot succeed in a world that is failing.”

Madeleine M. Oulevey is a summer intern with the OEC’s Green Jobs & Innovation program. Currently, Madeleine is a senior at Denison University where she is studying history.