Sustainable Business Day Hosts Energy Tycoons

Sustainability and commercial expansion may seem oxymoronic, but not when big business defines it.

“Business students at John Molson School of Business [should] start rethinking the definition of the bottom line,” said Shelly Elslinger, a Concordia career advisor, at the Sustainable Business Day conference on Nov. 5.

The event featured a keynote speaker from mining giant Rio Tinto, as well as guest speakers from Hydro Quebec, 5N Plus Metal Manufacturing Company, Cambium Marketing Consulting Firm and the Canadian arm of Al Gore’s Climate Change Project.

Srikanth Sekar, president of the John Molson Business Group said that the yearly event’s main motive was to “promote sustainability and make sure everyone is educated in sustainable business practices.

“Most students think ‘green’ when [the word sustainability] comes to mind. It’s not just about being green. There are many other things involved.”

Marc Suys, VP Environmental Affairs of 5N Plus, said that sustainability could be a tool for growth. Suys also said that regular recycling is only available to their customers and not suppliers because applying recycling practices to their suppliers would cost too much.

“We recycle only for our customers and not the suppliers because we are not in the business to recycle,” he said during a panel discussion. “It is a [method we use] to secure our customers.”

Keynote Speaker Mihaela Stefanov, a representative of international mining company Rio Tinto, highlighted that building community relationships is extremely important while exploring potential drilling sites. She said that by getting the community involved in the exploration process poses “less risk [for the company] because [the risk] is shared by everybody.”

She stressed that a closure plan is an integral part of their sustainability plan.

“If [Rio Tinto] is planning to be there for a number of years, we have to start working with [the community] from day one,” Stefanov said, adding that it is inevitable that the mine’s minerals will eventually deplete.

Stefanov is one of 12 people in the company’s designated sustainability sector named the Global Practice Group. Rio Tinto employs over 40,000 people.

In 2009, Rio Tinto employees were arrested for bribery and espionage in China. Since then, the mining company has been trying to polish their brand image to consumers.

Michelle Holliday, owner of Cambium Marketing Consultations believes that current marketing trends are “[moving] towards authenticity.”

“It’s like soul searching,” she added. “We have to process a conversation internally to figure out who we really are and what we really want to do with the world.”

Hydro Quebec General Manager of Environmental Affairs Stella Leney put emphasis on the importance of the bottom line.

“It’s true, [for a business to exist] we have to be profitable,” said Leney. “But you can still be profitable and environmentally sound at the same time.”

Stephanie Berger, a presenter for the not-for-profit Climate Change Project concluded the speaker series by raising awareness on climate change realities, like melting glaciers and globally-schizophrenic weather. She stressed that it’s up to the new generation of business people to change the course of climate change.

“The new business of business is the mitigation of climate change, because there’s business opportunities and large businesses have a huge implication on the world,” she said. “The role of business is critical [in alleviating climate change], therefore it cannot be done without business, and it cannot be done without you.”

This article originally appeared in Volume 31, Issue 13, published November 9, 2010.