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During 2010, we saw a steady march of progress, withsome of the world’s biggest companies and brands put-ting a stake in the ground in the name of environmental(and sometimes social) sustainability. Some are com-panies that hadn’t previously been visible in these ways.Others, it turned out, had been quietly taking action,walking more than talking, only recently discovering thatmodesty is no longer an asset in a world that increasinglydemands transparency. Still others have only recentlyelevated sustainability to a level of importance, hiring
their rst senior executives to oversee and coordinate
sustainability commitments and goals.All of this in spite of — and, in some cases, because of —the stumbling economy.
As we noted last year, this recession was the rst eco
-nomic downturn where corporate environmental pro-
fessionals weren’t the rst to be tossed overboard. They
largely kept their jobs, though some suffered budgetfreezes and slashes, and more than a few endured reor-ganizations that consolidated them with other func-tions, or dispersed sustainability responsibilities withinother operations or business units.These are growing pains, signs of a maturing businessfunction. We saw the same thing happen with informa-tion technology professionals a quarter century ago.Their work was initially seen as marginal, not core tostrategy. They sat off to the side, organizationally speak-
ing, with their own efdoms and unique, often impen
-etrable, jargon. We heard from them only when therewere problems. Today, of course, we can chuckle atour naïveté, given our unconditional surrender to IT torun our lives at work, at home, and at play. Today, nearlyeveryone inside a company is an IT worker of sorts, aswe upgrade, troubleshoot, and plug and play technologyof previously unimaginable sophistication. Dedicated IT
professionals are viewed as key players, core to prots
and productivity, typically answering to a chief informa-
Sustainability seems to be on a similar path.Today, managing a company’s environmental footprintis less and less limited to the environmental depart-ment. Increasingly, it is the domain of procurement,
nance, facilities, eets, legal, operations, real estate,
supply chain, marketing, investor relations, even human
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There’s a school of thought that says, in effect, it isn’t easy being greeneven in a good economy. If that’s true, sustainable business activitiesshould pretty much have driven off a cliff during the Great Recession.But the opposite seems to have happened. Indeed, a dramatic shift isoccurring in business: Companies are thinking bigger and longer termabout sustainability — a sea change from their otherwise notoriouslyincremental, short-term mindset. And even during these challengingeconomic times, many have doubled down on their sustainabilityactivities and commitments.