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In June, Erb Managing Director Terry Nelidov and I traveled to London  to attend Innovation Forum’s two-day conference, “How business Can Measure the Impact—and ROI—of Corporate Sustainability.” This event dove into the complexity associated with holistically measuring, communicating and responding to a corporation’s social, environmental and economic impacts.

U.K.-based Innovation Forum conferences take a unique approach, following Chatham House Rule (the content of the discussion can be shared publicly but not attributed to individual participants) and a strict zero-slides policy. This format offers a breath of fresh air, enabling and encouraging speakers and audience members to speak frankly and directly about the challenges they face and the sometimes unpalatable realities of the business sustainability landscape.

At the conference, Terry participated on a panel discussion titled “Social License to Operate: Can Companies Really Value Their Environmental and Social Footprint? What Is the Cost of Failing to Do So?” Drawing from his extensive experience working with communities, nonprofits and extractive companies in Latin America, Terry spoke about the importance of using key principles as an anchor during times of community crisis. For the Erb Institute, these principles include the core beliefs that people matter, organizational operations should align with and reflect community interests and values, and shared learning and best practices are already available (i.e., they don’t need to be re-invented) to support resilience. Terry pointed to the Erb Institute’s foundational, practitioner-focused Stakeholder Engagement Toolbox as a resource to guide companies as they set out to develop a robust stakeholder engagement process.

I was struck by a few key common themes that surfaced over the two days. There was widespread agreement that the landscape of sustainability reporting tools and frameworks is very crowded, making it difficult for companies to decide how to meaningfully measure and communicate their sustainability impact.

Many conversations also led to the conclusion that having a company culture that is rooted in shared sustainability values is critical for impact. Finally, companies need to rely on their materiality assessment to identify and respond to the sustainability-related risks that are most material to their company, and prioritize what matters most for their companies and their stakeholders.

The London conference nicely set the stage for Innovation Forum Detroit, scheduled for October 2-3, 2018 in historic downtown Detroit. As part of our “Conversations with Consequence” series, the Erb Institute is collaborating closely with Innovation Forum to develop a dynamic agenda on defining and measuring sustainability impacts, and a participants roster from across the US and around the globe. Learnings from London will inform discussions in October, with a nod to the challenges and opportunities of business in contributing to the growth that Detroit is experiencing!

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