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Updated: November 2, 2020 Focus: Energy

Sustainable biz council carving out niche in climate change collaboration

Photo | HBJ File The Connecticut Sustainable Business Council launched in 2016. Pictured here at that Stamford launch event is council CEO Heather Burns (left) watching Stephen Freedman, then the head of sustainable investing solutions at UBS Global Wealth Management, address the crowd.

The Connecticut Sustainable Business Council has grown up a bit since it was founded four years ago, and honed its focus of late.

The not-for-profit group, known by its acronym CTSBC, launched in Oct. 2016 as a vehicle for connecting Connecticut companies and professionals to share best practices and support common causes of environmental stewardship and social responsibility.

At the time, there were some big names that joined as corporate members, including UBS and Uber. Those companies have stuck with it, and in recent years the council has also added the likes of Tesla, and expanded its reach into Greater Hartford, where Hartford’s Blue Earth Compost, Plainville’s Loureiro Engineering and Meriden-based aquaponics farming company Trifecta Ecosystems have come aboard, bringing its current membership count to about 20.

“We’re hoping to double or triple that in the coming year,” said Heather Burns, CTSBC’s founding CEO. “Even businesses that formerly may have considered themselves competitors, there’s much more talk about ‘how do we actually work together to address this issue?’ ”

Burns is a Fairfield County resident who has worked in corporate responsibility and sustainability roles for more than a decade. She said the organization’s board of directors decided last year to place a greater focus on climate change. The move was inspired by several events, both negative and positive.

The first was extreme bushfires in Australia, exacerbated by drought and high temperatures, which ultimately burned hundreds of thousands of square miles. The second was Connecticut’s commitment to invest in 2,000 megawatts of offshore wind power by 2030, the most significant ramp-up in renewables in state history.

“We’d been much more broad in terms of sustainability, stakeholder engagement, social responsibility — all those other outlying pieces that are certainly related, but we really felt that strategically we needed to focus now on climate and energy,” Burns said.

As large companies scrutinize the environmental emissions produced by their supply chains, there’s more pressure on small and midsize businesses to ensure their own operations are up to snuff, and to publicly report their progress.

That can be complicated work, and Burns said the council is pursuing funding to help smaller firms pursue sustainability as a key part of their business plans.

The council also recently partnered with the Connecticut chapter of Conscious Capitalism — a group that promotes business practices that consider benefits to society and the environment, rather than just shareholders — to organize a three-day virtual conference focused on climate change and how businesses might play a positive role in slowing it.

The Connecticut Climate Action Business Summit, which featured academics, policy experts, lawmakers, authors and others, drew a few hundred attendees, and the organizers hope to do it again next year and grow that number. [Read coverage from the summit here]

Over the three days, panelists grappled with how the COVID-19 crisis could make it tougher to sell lawmakers and the public on big investments to address climate change, no matter how badly climate scientists say they are needed. Some also drew direct comparisons between the two crises, each of which has fueled anti-scientific sentiment in the U.S.

For the environmentally minded, one irony of COVID-19 is that its emergence led to steep and immediate reductions in climate-changing carbon dioxide emissions, as many people stayed home and didn’t commute to work early on in the pandemic.

“Reducing CO2 has been a huge benefit of COVID already, and it’s kind of showed us that there is a positive way forward, particularly when there were so many unwilling partners,” said Glenn McDermott, executive director of the Conscious Capitalism state chapter.

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