Last week, a diverse group of private- and public-sector representatives from around the country met in Boston for EnergySmart 2012. Convened by energy management solutions provider EnerNOC,* a common theme that emerged during the program was the increasingly mainstream nature of the sustainability movement.

Just a few years ago, this movement was on the relative outskirts of corporate best practices. Today, however, it has been largely validated – whether for bottom-line savings, benefits to corporate reputation or the moral imperative of sustainability.

In his keynote presentation, Daniel Esty, commissioner of the Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection, pointed to a growing set of pressures including increasing energy costs, new regulations and stakeholder expectations that have created a “sustainability imperative” for companies to invest in energy efficiency. Esty argued that government should structure incentives that encourage private investment into sustainability, encouraging efficiency and innovation.

Those working to integrate sustainable business practices into their corporate cultures and initiatives, however, continue to face challenges. Rebecca Henderson, co-director of the Business and Environmental Initiative at the Harvard Business School, discussed the uncertainty and tensions large organizations face when implementing change. Adding to the difficulty of organizing around innovation, she argued, is that new innovations may not immediately measure up against old measures of success – take the first iterations of digital photography or the electric car as examples.

Henderson outlined two approaches for implementing sustainability and efficiency programs: a pragmatic approach and a values-driven approach. The most successful organizations, she argued, are those that are comprised of individuals who share core values. Companies that wish to implement innovative change must take a step back from “operational excellence” – getting good at checking boxes – to pivot organizational transitions around core corporate values.

We want to hear from you. What challenges have you faced in making sustainability a core part of your organization? Should government play an increased role in driving sustainable innovation? Or is it up to companies to find pragmatic and values-driven approaches to sustainability that work for their particular organization and culture?

*EnerNOC is an APCO client

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Richard VanOrnum

Richard (Van) VanOrnum, director at APCO Worldwide, is a member of the corporate communication and issues management service group. Read More