Embrace Sustainability: Differentiate and Win (Del Boyette Commentary)

by Del Boyette  on Monday, Jul. 15, 2013 12:00 am  

Del Boyette

Communities nationally and in Arkansas have to consider “hot button” issues that drive location criteria and corporate decision-makers in their search for potential new locations. The hot button issues getting most of the buzz in the economic development arena are sustainability, workforce and incentives.

While workforce and incentives have long been competitive factors in the site location process, sustainability is new to the game. But the reason for sustainability is becoming clearer and clearer. Business and industry are locating in sustainable commerce parks, “green leases” are being routinely executed, and companies around the globe are exploring ways to reduce their carbon footprint.

A survey by Accenture showed that 96 percent of CEOs believe that sustainability issues should be fully integrated into the strategy and operations of their companies (up 24 percent since 2007), and 91 percent report that their company will employ new technologies to address sustainability issues during the next five years. That explains, at least in part, why about 40 percent of commercial property nationally uses Energy Star Portfolio Manager to monitor and report energy performance and why LEED-certified properties exceed 2 billion SF around the world.

In an Ernst & Young survey completed early this year, 80 percent of CEOs said new revenue opportunities will be driving sustainability initiatives, and 66 percent reported an increase in inquiries about sustainability-related issues from their investors and shareholders in the past 12 months.

Even Nascar is making a huge push to be more sustainable. It has, by far, the largest and most diverse recycling program in sports. It recycles bottles and cans like other sports, but at a massive volume given the number of events and attendance. It also recycles automotive fluids — about 200,000 gallons a year — and tires. Nascar is also using a 15 percent ethanol fuel in all of its televised race cars, which not only reduces emissions but supports the American farmer.

One of the reasons corporate America practices sustainability is because of the triple bottom line of “people, planet and profit.” Consumers are making purchasing decisions based on the perceived strength of corporate commitments to environmental and social sustainability. And today’s students and recent graduates want to attend colleges that practice sustainability and want to live and work in sustainable communities, making the issue a key component of talent recruitment.

As a result of corporate America’s commitment to sustainability, communities are now making huge strides in their own sustainability efforts. More and more companies are looking to invest and locate in communities that embrace sustainability and provide an infrastructure that enables the company to practice its own sustainability initiatives.

This corporate commitment has tremendous implications for economic development. In a survey on corporate sustainability conducted by Jones Lang LaSalle, nine out of 10 times when companies make a location decision, they are taking sustainability into account as a primary consideration. The survey also showed that corporate real estate executives are highly involved in providing sustainability performance data and funding sustainability investments, with the drivers being reduced costs and increased employee satisfaction.

To be most competitive in the economic development arena, communities should understand their sustainability efforts and be prepared to share that information with prospects. They must also consider incentives related to sustainability, develop sustainable networking opportunities for businesses, encourage green construction, and ensure an adequately trained workforce for sustainable occupations.

A strong commitment to sustainability will not only improve the quality of our lives, but it will also increase the economic competitiveness of our communities and our state. Sustainability may not be a hot button for everyone today, but it is not a fad. Sustainability is here to stay and it will be a differentiator for communities that embrace it as they compete for business and industry.

Del Boyette is president and CEO of Boyette Strategic Advisors, an economic development, public policy and location analysis firm based in Little Rock, with offices in Atlanta and Orlando.



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