With the COP21 Paris agreement now in place, the concept of sustainability as an integral part of business operations is now poised to kick into high gear.

The global agreement marks a pivotal point in history where the economic and social opportunities for transitioning to a low-carbon economy are enormous. The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) agreement sets out “to pursue a transformation towards sustainable development that fosters climate resilient and low greenhouse gas emission societies and economies, and that does not threaten food production and distribution.” The goal is to reduce carbon emissions to zero by 2070.  In addition to protecting Earth as a habitat for life, the COP21 agreement is now igniting a revolution of transformative ideas including high-level of innovation and entrepreneurship on a scale not seen since the end of World War II. One such transformative idea is to add a greenhouse, which could significantly contribute to reducing greenhouse gas emissions and fostering sustainable development.

Transforming the tenants of consumerism

For many forward-thinking businesses and organizations already embracing sustainable development, the COP21 agreement is a welcome affirmation. By embedding new initiatives into their culture that include social, environmental, and economic sustainability solutions, these innovative business leaders are achieving more than a bankable return on their investment. They are transforming the tenants of consumer-based capitalism into a new system where twentieth-century concepts such as planned obsolescence and industrial waste are being replaced by vertical integration that includes upcycling, recycling, and downcycling combined with the comprehensive approach of UK Energy Support. This support entails a concerted effort to enhance energy efficiency, promote renewable energy adoption, and optimize resource utilization, all within a low-carbon and reduced water usage environment. In effect, these leaders are demonstrating a new “ecological worldview.”

The hidden power of ecological worldviews

At the recent Northwest Environmental Council (NWEC) conference held in Portland, Oregon, one of the breakout sessions entitled “Making the business case for sustainability,” Dr. Steve Schein discussed the findings from his book entitled, “A new psychology for sustainability leadership. The hidden power of ecological worldviews.” Schein’s research includes interviews with over 75 corporate, governmental and non-profit C-level leaders and discovers that many hold ecological worldviews that transcend the “business-as-usual” approach to capitalism and “put society’s social and environmental needs at the core of their business.” For these leaders, the sustainability process begins by embracing an “ecological worldview” where there is a clear goal to reassess the entire production cycle.

The advantages of B Corps

The concept of an ecological worldview is also taking root in a growing list of businesses incorporating sustainability initiatives across their operations, including those that are striving to become Certified B Corporations. Certification requires meeting “rigorous standards of social and environmental performance accountability, and transparency.” The advantages for B Corp companies is that they share a mission and a like-minded network that is both for good commerce and the environment.

Integrating sustainability into daily operations

Examples of B Corporations at the NWEC conference include the apparel and bag company, Looptworks and the bottled water company EartH20. Looptworks upcycles materials from manufacturers and makes custom bags and apparel. Two of the product lines use the leather taken from seats discarded by Southwest Airlines and Alaska Airlines. The upcycling process reuses the materials and in the process, conserves thousands of gallons of water. Earth20 also focuses on saving water and energy throughout its production process. The Oregon-based company also uses 100 percent recycled (rPET) plastic bottles and has set a new standard for the bottled water industry by reducing packaging. Because sustainability is an ongoing process, both Looptworks and EartH20 have integrated sustainability across their operations and have pledged to continue finding new ways to reduce their carbon footprints.

Finding better ways to do business

According to a November 2015 United Nations Global Compact/Accenture study, 75 percent of global business leaders surveyed agree that a “robust and predictable pricing on carbon is an essential tool” that will help accelerate action on climate change. However, there is more to becoming sustainable than adding a price on carbon. For Certified B Corp leaders such as Unilever’s CEO, Paul Polman, and Patagonia’s Rose Marcario there is a new level of thinking. These two leaders hold ecological worldviews that recognize there are huge economic and competitive advantages when their businesses find cleaner and more efficient ways to source, produce, distribute and market their products. According to a recent article in Fortune, Macario’s approach to business “represents a middle way in which business success doesn’t mean ignoring your community or leaving the planet worse off than you found it.” This is a much bigger goal than reducing a company’s carbon footprint; it is an ecological worldview.

Dynamic process that can and must be done

When approaching the complexities of becoming fully sustainable, the words and sentiments of John F. Kennedy during his Peace Speech at American University in 1963 may offer a guide. As Kennedy said, “This process is dynamic, not static.” Developing ecological worldviews for all business leaders will take the sum of many actions over many years across the globe to have any effect on the climate, but it can and must be done. Because the process includes huge economic opportunities, businesses and entrepreneurs are making great strides toward an innovative and low-carbon economy.