Lessons on Going Green – GRI Amsterdam Global Conference on Sustainability and Transparency

The Global Reporting Initiative’s annual Conference on Sustainability and Transparency is like Cannes for the worldwide corporate sustainability set.

First highlight: Queen Rania Al-Abdullah of Jordan’s arrival, heralded by mainstream press. The Queen is almost comically composed, graceful as a prima ballerina, and even more gorgeous in person – she greets the mayor of Amsterdam with aplomb as cameras and sound equipment crackle around her.

At 2pm, Her Majesty will deliver the first keynote, announcing the creation of the “Arab Sustainability Leadership Group,” a network of Arab companies dedicated to sustainability and reporting.

American healthcare organizations – to think we worried about the Pacific Rim….next year’s motto for American hospitals should be “keep your eye on Dubai” and other growing Arab cities.

They have the opportunity to build green hospitals from scratch (or reclaimed materials), and can more rapidly implement sustainability requirements. American hospital partners participating in RFPs and negotiating agreements will go green out of necessity.

For more about why I’m hobnobbing this week (Wednesday through Friday) with the international business eco-elite, read this post at Health Management Rx.

Like HIT, sustainability strategy is an area in which the US hospital industry is shamefully lagging decades behind modern developmental initiatives.

Luckily, in Europe multi-component corporate consortiums are the rule rather than the exception…when I moved to Holland in January I had no idea I’d be standing, literally, at one of the global gateways to green innovation.

GRI is the global authority on developing environmentally responsible corporate ecosystems – established in 1997 by the Coalition for Environmentally Responsible Economies (CERES) and the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), GRI became a permanent foundation at the 2002 World Summit on Sustainable Development (WSSD).

7 of the top 10 Business Week Global Brands issue GRI-based sustainability reports. Almost half of the UKs largest companies (49 of the FTSE 100) also report using the GRI recs.

After being shooed out of the Queen’s arrival path, I wander down to the media room for rapid-fire PO delivery of caffeine.

I pass a quick half hour scoping out the competition (not one other blogger who’s not also part of the ‘old media’ set, not one other healthcare writer, a handful of skirts in a room of suits, my Dell laptop sticking out like a sore thumb) and establish a plan of attack.

Swag includes a posh hemp bag (made by small South African firm Township Patterns cc, which provides sustainable employment opportunities for women).

Inside the bag is a small blue plastic toy trash bin, courtesy of van Gansewinkel, a 60W Vattenfall enviro-friendly lightbulb, and about 16 pounds of paper brochures.

Now, it would seem like a no-brainer that when you’re reporting on sustainability initiatives at a global convention, you should select a printing house that provides recycled paper content.

However, only about half the brochures in my bag are on recycled or ‘eco’ paper. Conference organizers did suggest sponsors use environmentally friendly materials…but encouraging adoption of sustainability efforts is more about the carrot than the stick.

95 pages of paper/cardstock in my bag. Conference capacity is 1k, and the event sold out, so that’s over 95,000 sheets of paper used just for programs, the vast majority of which will end life ignominiously in Friday’s trash at the close of the conference. Recycling bins are available upstairs. Excellent.

Note to hospitals: print ONLY ON RECYCLED PAPER. Every annual report. Every promotional brochure. Every receipt.

Healthcare executives (and meeting planners) take note - GRI organizers are doing many things right here. Each attendee will have transportation C02 to the conference offset by Climate Neutral Group. There’s little paper and no printer in the press room other than standard hotel tablet pads (not recycled content).

Each attendee received a free Amsterdam public transport ticket, good for 96 hours, to stimulate use of public transport. All conference materials were printed with environmentally friendly paper and ink.

Catering is organic, and there’s nary a bottle of water in sight (except mine, bought this morning at the train station after I realized I’d forgotten my Nalgene).

An interesting component of GRIs sector-based focus on global sustainability is the idea that job creation is a substantial piece of the pie.

Participants from developing countries are given a 40-70 percent discount to attend and take best practices home.

GRI is pushing the locovore movement, using local suppliers - all the flower arrangements done by apprentice florists from Klusius College here in Holland.

In concert with the conference, a documentary photo exhibit, titled “Sustainability and Transparency,” is showing at the Mekweg Galerie, Amsterdam.

Sponsored by Kodak Gallery and GRI, the goal is to stimulate discussions around themes including: fair trade coffee in Nicaragua, HIV/Aids in South Africa, poverty in Cambodia, globalization in China, Kichwa Indians in Ecuador, deforestation in the Congo, and American mass consumption (ouch).

I had the chance to speak with Katherine Miles Hill, Communications Coordinator for GRI. Katherine is a healthcare alum – she used to work for a UK hospital/health insurance concern. Katherine and I chatted for a bit about why GRI doesn’t have a healthcare sector-yet.

They’re more than willing, but a certain critical mass hasn’t arrived - “scope is needed to start the sector supplement.” Read: So far enough big healthcare/hospital players haven’t shown interest in sustainability reporting.

According to Katherine, this is at least partially due to a cultural issue – “hospitals think what they’re doing is intrinsically good, what I’m reading is ‘oh, I don’t have to manage the wider impacts.’”

Katherine and I both agree that if we don’t start migrating voluntarily, developing global partnerships and resulting “market regulations” will push American healthcare, kicking and screaming, into the sustainability movement.

Katherine gave an example of doing some market research for an insurance company looking to break into the Indian market. The firm discovered they’re required to devote a certain percentage of overall coverage provided, free of charge, to the urban poor, and another chunk to rural poor.

As healthcare companies expand, many will need local partners. Local partners will adhere to local regulations, which increasingly require sustainability reporting – particularly for new relationships.

Glasses clink as writers grab lunch. I meet the Petrobras crew briefly – they’re pushing Brazilian biofuels.

At conferences, I love listening to hallway conversations. Sometimes you get the best soundbites sitting quietly with a cup of Joe and a notebook (or laptop) in hand.

Favorite so far from GRI: “We’re not gonna go back.”

Perhaps a more appropriate healthcare sector quote would be: “We’ve gotta go forward.” We’ve gotta go green.

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