How Sustainable Is Your Business?

How Sustainable Is Your Business?

Madison is considered a pretty “green” city. We have hybrid taxis on our roads, countless bike paths, a nonprofit that is nationally recognized for its sustainability efforts and a new, state-of-the-art library that incorporates natural light, recycled materials and solar panels. Then there’s Edgewood College and its dynamic Sustainability Leadership Program and UW’s ongoing “We Conserve” effort to save energy and reduce waste on campus. Many local businesses, too, are involved in sustainability initiatives; nearly seventy companies have completed Sustain Dane’s MPower Champion program in the last four years, with eighteen more currently enrolled. Even so, companies often face barriers to implementing environmentally-friendly strategies, citing other priorities, possible high costs or lack of staff as obstacles, according to a 2013 GreenBiz Group study. But former Nestlé Waters North America VP of sustainability Michael Washburn says it doesn’t have to be this way. The key, he stated at the Badger Bioneers event in November, is to convince stakeholders of the real economic value that exists in acting sustainably. 

DATA: 2013 Survey of Sustainable Efforts of Wisconsin Businesses.
Respondents were able to select more than one response. 


DATA: 2013 Survey of Sustainable Efforts of Wisconsin Businesses from the WI Department of Natural Resources, WI Sustainable Business Council and Cool Choices


The collective total annual cost savings from local businesses that completed Sustain Dane’s MPower program between 2009 and 2012
DATA: Sustain Dane 


95 percent of the 250 largest companies in the world now issue separate sustainability reports.
DATA: Deloitte, 2012


Wisconsin Sustainable Business Council executive director Tom Eggert sheds some light on the state’s green business scene

What are challenges a business faces in going green? 
Many businesses have the notion that becoming more sustainable comes at a cost … In reality, instead of being a cost, greening your business acts as a catalyst for innovation, new market opportunities as well as financial savings.

Are there any recent trends in sustainable business practices? 
Companies are using sustainability targets, such as efficiency metrics, to drive product and process innovation. Companies are recognizing sustainability performance in voluntary sustainability reports. Many companies are introducing sustainability to their supply chains and asking suppliers to report on key sustainability metrics. 

What is the Green Masters Program?
The Green Masters Program is a free, objective, points-based recognition program that enables Wisconsin businesses of all sizes and from any sector to join a group of like-minded companies that are “on the road to sustainability.” It adds credibility to a company’s claims of being committed to sustainability.

What can businesses expect from the upcoming Wisconsin Sustainable Business Conference?
Businesses should expect to deepen their understanding of and learn about cutting edge business sustainability practices. Expect to leave with knowledge of what others have done, what lessons they’ve learned and a new network of contacts that can serve as a valuable resource on a journey toward sustainability.

How is this conference unique? 
All speakers are business practitioners from across the state that are working in the sustainability area and speak from actual experience. The entire conference is planned by UW–Madison students.

The Wisconsin Sustainable Business Conference is December 13. Visit for more information.


As sustainability becomes more important to companies large and small across the globe, the role of the sustainability professional—whether in the form of a VP, a director or a manager—is on the rise. “Sustainability as a dedicated role within a business is a growing trend at every level, in many types of organizations,” says Beth Churchill, sustainability specialist at American Family Insurance, a two-time Sustain Dane MPower Business Champion often lauded for its commitment to sustainability. But it’s a relatively nascent profession. A 2013 study from the GreenBiz Group found that sixty-eight percent of VPs and seventy-three percent of directors have clocked fewer than six years working on sustainability issues at their present firms. Beyond the recent increase in these kinds of jobs at the professional level, education and training on the topic are also on the upswing. “There wasn’t any academic curriculum when I began my career, and now the academic curriculum is everywhere,” Churchill says. “When I started … you had to create your own path.”