Campus & Community / Magazine Feature

DU a sustainability beacon for business community

More than 500 business people showed up at the Colorado Convention Center on Wednesday to talk about sustainability. Many of them heard the University of Denver held up as both a shining example and a guide to attitudes on Wall Street.

The example part at the Sustainable Opportunities Summit came when Bruce Hutton, dean emeritus and marketing professor at DU’s Daniels College of Business, described how the University innovated its curriculum to embrace ethics in the early 1990s and sustainability more recently, earning high rankings in the process.

The guidance part came when David Cox (JD ’96), a Daniels assistant dean and professor of finance, explored whether Wall Street “gets” sustainability or remains on its own track.

In both cases, pointed questions indicated audiences seemed impressed.

“What we did parallels what industry is doing now in the best sense of innovation driving sustainability and vice versa,” Hutton said about DU’s efforts to change. His comments came in a conference panel in which Hutton laid out six keys to making sustainability connect with innovation.

Institutions, he said, must foster interdisciplinary thinking on sustainability, change their culture to embrace the concept, align the organization’s structure to sustainable goals, provide leadership, allow employees “to speak truth to power” and encourage collaboration.

“Innovation is an attitude,” he said. “It becomes part of who you are in an organization.”

Hutton mentioned a couple of companies that Daniels faculty work with on issues of sustainable development and innovation: Newmont Mining and Deutsche Bank.

“Newmont Mining is the first gold mining company to be on the Dow Jones Sustainability Index,” he said. “And they did it through innovation.”

When the spotlight turned to whether Wall Street “gets” sustainability, Cox shed light to a skeptical crowd. Many of the nation’s companies do get it, Cox said, and there are three indicators: what companies say, what regulators make them say and what outside evaluators say.

“Companies want to be listed on the Dow Jones Sustainability Index,” said Cox, noting that qualifying for the listing adds “outside validity” to corporate behavior and entices investors. Inclusion also satisfies growing public clamor to know about business practices, Cox said, which he likened to the 1930s when Congress demanded companies come clean on information they’d never before had to reveal. Today, that disclosure lands on items such as greenhouse gas emissions and carbon footprint.

Cox’s survey of the business landscape was benign compared to fellow panelist Tom Croft, who blamed Wall Street for $5 trillion worth of losses on everything from pension and retirement funds to diminished college endowments, plus $13 trillion of loss on home property values.

“We need to tell Wall Street that the market serves society and not the other way around,” Croft said.

Cox pointed out that companies react to what customers demand. As pressure for socially responsible practices build, he said, companies will react and change. We’ll know we’re there, he said, when sustainability is no longer an add-on in business decisions, but part of every practice.

“The corporate culture has to be that the business plan is inundated with sustainable development as part of everything they do,” he said, noting that it’s a shift created by outside pressure and driven by self-interest.

Cox’s message was a theme emphasized earlier in the day by Denver Mayor John Hickenlooper, who told attendees that green concepts in business plans save money, aid the environment and raise quality of life. It doesn’t take international accords to change life on the local level, he said. Just don’t “wrangle” over the small stuff, he warned, or communities can lose focus and fail to move ahead.

“With public sentiment, nothing can fail,” Hickenlooper said, quoting Abraham Lincoln. “Without it, nothing can succeed.”


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