Northeast Ohio should become a global leader in the sustainability movement, agreed 85 of the region’s business leaders, consultants and academics who convened at the Business as Agent of World Benefit Global Forum on October 24, 2006.
Achieving this aim could help to reverse decades of economic decline and create lasting economic value for the region.
“Creating sustainable value could be THE business opportunity of the century,” suggested David Cooperrider, founder of The Center for Business as an Agent of World Benefit and professor and chairman of the Department of Organizational Behavior at the Weatherhead School of Management, in his keynote speech.
At the forum, a group of fired-up Northeast Ohio delegates spent hours brainstorming ways to capitalize on that opportunity.
“I was inspired by CK Prahalad’s ideas about finding business solutions to alleviate poverty,” said Jon Utech, manager of consulting services for NACCO Industries, a Weatherhead MBA graduate and current MPOD student. Noting that Cleveland is now the poorest city in the nation, Utech envisions a center dedicated to generating businesses (and wealth) in low-income communities.
As Holly Harlan, president and founder of Entrepreneurs for Sustainability, pointed out: “Leaders throughout the region are already pursuing business opportunities in advanced energy, local foods, green building, efficient transportation, eco-systems services and turning waste into revenue. I was excited to see these ideas gain recognition from a global audience.”
After vetting dozens of worthy ideas, the delegates decided to start with a single priority goal: To convince 150 Northeast Ohio organizations to sign on to the United Nations Global Compact, effectively doubling the number of signatories in the United States. Participants in the Global Compact pledge to uphold the principles of the UN Millennium Goals and behave responsibly in three areas: human rights, environmental protection and ethical governance.
The goal knocked the socks off of Georg Kell, executive director of the United Nations Global Compact, who said it’s the first time he’s seen a region come together in this way.
“I am so impressed with Northeast Ohio,” Kell said. “I’m astonished by the level sensitivity to these issues, the spirit of collaboration and the commitment to large-scale change. In other regions, competitiveness blinds organizations to collaborative opportunities.
“I am struck by the readiness of the people here to pull up their sleeves and invest collective energy on social and environmental issues,” Kell added.
“It is quite unusual, and I am really touched.”