Water, Water and Accelerating Sustainability

May 7, 2014
General Foundation

Energy. Water. Food. All essential things, but have you ever thought about how they are intertwined? And if you’re a business, what should you do about it?

The “nexus” between these three items was a main topic May 6, as the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation’s Corporate Citizenship Center hosted its “Accelerating Sustainability” forum.The all-day event was a chance for the Foundation to release its latest research, and more than a dozen business and nonprofit leaders were on hand to discuss the challenges of growing their businesses while also using energy and water in a sustainable way.

THE ENERGY-WATER-FOOD NEXUS AND BUSINESSES

The Energy-Water-Food Nexus isn’t a new concept, but researchers at the Corporate Citizenship Center noted that there was almost nothing written to advise companies on what it means to them.

The center released a new report, “The Energy-Water-Food Nexus: Insights for the Business Community,” to address that knowledge gap.

“The literature we read did not appear to target the private sector,” said Dr. Jeff Lundy, the manager of research for the Corporate Citizenship Center. “To the general business audience, there was not really a how-to report on how to get up to speed with the nexus. Our report is a first step.”

Drawing on 54 documents, the report outlines six steps for business to take in order to understand the nexus and respond to its impact.

 “Understanding the energy, water, and food nexus is critical to any business that wants to understand the challenges it may face in the future,” the Corporate Citizenship Center said in its report.

FINDING WATER IN THE DESERT

For MGM Resorts in Las Vegas, sustainability is not just a buzzword. In an environment where water is scarce, finding ways to operate massive hotels and casino in an environmentally responsible way is paramount.

“We are all over this notion of sustainability,” said Rose McKinney-James, an MGM board member and principal of Energy Works Consulting, LLC. “Our chief executive officer believes sustainability should be part of our core competency.”

MGM’s efforts to promote sustainability are evident in its plans to use solar panels for 20 percent of the energy at Mandalay Bay Hotel & Casino. And up the strip at Bellagio, the famous fountain uses only recycled water. 

McKinney-James noted that MGM now operates the “greenest” corridor on the Las Vegas strip, and has made sustainability part of the employee culture.

But it’s not easy, and often requires significant investment. Imagine, for example, trying to install more efficient water fixtures in 20,000 hotel rooms.

“Capacity is a true barrier when you want to make significant shifts when you do business,” she said. “We have to take the time to help build that capacity.” 

COLLABORATION AND PARTNERSHIPS

Eunice Heath, Global Director of Sustainability Business Engagement and Education for The Dow Chemical Company, noted that the company has a partnership with the Nature Conservancy, in which several company sites will serve as “living laboratories” to test how valuing nature can be intertwined with corporate goals. One of the pilot sites will be at the headquarters of Dow’s operations in Texas.  

“It put the value of embracing nature to the forefront of our decision making,” Heath said. “We know we are growing as a company but did not want to grow our footprint.”

Other companies noted that they belong to consortiums and groups designed to help guide corporate policies regarding sustainability. Executives noted that even some government regulation, when properly implemented, can play a role in helping companies carry out sustainability plans.

“It’s a balance. We do look to the government to be the catalyst to get everyone on the same playing field,” said Mary Grace Anderson, vice president for safety, environmental and social performance for Shell Upstream Americas. “The government can kind of step in and establish the minimum, then push us so we’re operating on the same playing field. There’s a place for regulation and a place for industry to lead.”

Watch the full webcast of the Accelerating Sustainability forum.

Download the full report: “The Energy-Water-Food Nexus: Insights for the Business Community.”