The World Environment Center just awarded its annual Gold Medal award for International Corporate Achievement in Sustainable Development to IBM. The company was recognized for its commitment to advancing environmental sustainability and for providing business solutions in support of more sustainable cities and the planet.
The importance of environmental sustainability has exploded in recent years. It is implanted in the minds of leaders no matter what aspect of business, government or society they serve. But to be realistic, it hasn’t always been this way.
The broad popularity of environmental sustainability has been cyclical since the first
Earth Day back in 1970. If the sustainability of our planet is indeed a future imperative, a relevant question for any organization is: How do you sustain sustainability over the long term?
At IBM, environmental leadership has been practiced regardless of its popularity or the company’s financial performance at any given point in time. Environmental sustainability is managed as a strategic imperative. We work to anticipate opportunities and prevent problems. Underlying this commitment is a conviction that good environmental management makes good business sense.
In fact, this was the first time in the WEC Gold Medal’s 28 year history that a company has earned it twice (IBM had previously received the award in 1990). We do indeed work hard to sustain sustainability.
For global institutions at large, I am certainly encouraged. That’s because the next generation is far more passionate about environmental sustainability than any other in recent memory. We’re on the front edge of a new wave of leaders who want to perform work that not only delivers a return to shareholders, but also who want to perform work that is good for society. It’s a generation that thinks not just about stockholders, but also stakeholders.
From where I sit, I see opportunity for institutions to capitalize on insights from data analytics gleaned from our instrumented and interconnected world. Today’s leaders are blazing the trail and making systems – such as physical infrastructure – more efficient, intelligent and sustainable. It’s happening throughout the world because such innovation delivers not only environmental benefit, but also value and competitive advantage. And this can help the world sustain sustainability.
The good news is that the key requirement for real change now exists: People want it.
And they are hungry for leadership. Such a moment doesn’t come around often – perhaps a few times every century – and it will not last forever. Those seizing it today are the leaders of tomorrow. I am convinced that the forward-thinking individuals, communities, companies and countries of the world can build a smarter, more secure and more sustainable planet.
Wayne Balta is IBM’s Vice President for Corporate Environmental Affairs and Product Safety. A version of this article first appeared on WhiteHouse.gov.