UQ Sustainable Business Unit celebrates UN World Environment Day

9 Jun 2009
As Chair in Business Sustainability and Strategy at UQ Business School, business sustainability is certainly Professor Andrew Griffiths' cup of tea. Proving his passion for helping businesses to become more environmentally friendly, Professor Griffiths kicked off celebrations for UN World Environment Day as the keynote speaker at UQ's breakfast event today. Professor Griffiths discussed the need for universities to follow the lead of many other Australian companies and become more sustainable. "I spoke about how businesses and companies approach climate change and implement strategies to be more sustainable, and how and why the university needs to do this too," he said. "There is a quiet revolution happening. While you can read lots in the news about the emissions trading scheme, and debates about people in certain industries losing their jobs, there are organisations positively implementing climate change strategies and sustainability measures, before an emissions trading scheme has been put in place." And while UN World Environment Day spreads awareness of environmental issues and the need for more sustainable business and living, for Professor Griffiths, every day is about raising awareness of climate change and sustainability so local businesses can make their operations more efficient and sustainable. "Regardless of what people believe about climate change science, business has changed. We're going to be working in a world of carbon trading, and while a lot of things to do with sustainability are heresy now, in 15 years time they will be orthodox, thanks to the companies implementing these strategies now," he said. For each company Professor Griffiths works with, he typically carries out a greenhouse gas emissions audit, and provides a workshop for senior staff in the company. "We offer a range of initiatives, and we work in conjunction with them, offering expertise and advice, looking at climate change and sustainability more broadly. We look at current business activities, and the social and environmental aspects to provide different approaches to sustainability that appeal to people in different businesses," he said. "We have a two-day awareness program, and at the start we usually get some very skeptical people, but by the end they are very keen to change, and we encourage organizations to seed those and get more staff through these programs." "Making a business sustainable is an ongoing process, and when a company achieves wins in one area, this takes them on another path, usually looking at energy reductions first, and building design a few years down the track." And even with the financial crisis, businesses have continued to seek advice from Professor Griffiths and the Sustainable Business Unit. "Of the 20 organisations we work with, 15 have kept climate change programs well-funded, three have continued with their current funding and programs, and only two have stopped funding their programs." While Professor Griffiths said large financial benefits are not always immediately recognisable, a good reputation is priceless. "There are some economic benefits of being more sustainable, and as we move towards a carbon trading scheme, the benefits will be more noticeable," he said. "But there is a combination of factors driving this push for sustainability, and reputation is a real incentive. People want to know companies are acting on climate change. When companies bid for government contracts, they can then show their climate change credibility." "And when a company undertakes sustainability measures, staff want to get involved, so the whole process goes from being about carbon to being about culture. Even with the financial crisis, people still want a job with meaning." However, for Professor Griffiths the most rewarding part of helping businesses become more sustainable is watching the advice turn into action. "There is a nice interrelationship between the work we do here at the university, looking at these ideas, and the companies who put these ideas into action. These relationships really flourish with companies who are receptive and proactive," he said.