WisBusiness: DNR reorganization may boost sustainable business efforts

By David A. Wise


MILWAUKEE — Efforts within the Department of Natural Resources to encourage environmentally sustainable business practices could see a boost under a reorganization plan under consideration.


The plan would elevate the Bureau of Cooperative Environmental Assistance to an office directly attached to the secretary’s office and rename it the Office of Sustainable Economic and Environmental Development, or SEED.


Al Shea, administrator of the DNR’s Air and Waste Division, told attendees at the Green Tier Advantage 2009 conference in Milwaukee Tuesday that the goal of the transformation is to integrate the focus on sustainability and innovation throughout the organization, rather than within just a 10-person bureau.


“The goal, ultimately, is to transform the DNR from an organization that does Green Tier and innovation as, if you will, random acts of kindness, to one that has integrated and focused strategies for sustainability, not only for the environment, but for the economy,” Shea said.


Provided the Legislature reauthorizes it, the new office would continue the Green Tier program, which offers participating companies that agree to exceed environmental compliance standards incentives such as regulatory flexibility and public recognition.


Shea said the new office would work to develop specific packages of incentives and programs by sector, create networks of technical experts to better support businesses and take a proactive approach to enabling and understanding new technologies.


The plan is still under consideration and review, but Shea noted it has the support of DNR Secretary Matt Frank.


The conference kicked off Tuesday with a keynote address from sustainability expert and author Bob Willard, who urged attendees to use the language of business to convince companies to adopt sustainable practices.


Willard told attendees to avoid “greenie” talk with executives and instead focus on how engaging in socially and environmentally friendly business practices can reduce risk, provide opportunities and boost profits.


He said it was key to highlight sustainability as a tool by which to profit, rather than as a goal to achieve in and of itself.


“This is a business proposal,” Willard said, noting that a company’s motivation for engaging in social and environmentally sustainable practices is less important than the fact that they do so.


“Don’t get hung up on why an organization is doing it, as long as they’re doing it,” Willard said.


For a business to achieve maximum benefit from sustainable practices, that focus on sustainability must be ingrained throughout an organization, Willard said.


Willard is a former IBM senior manager and author of “The Sustainability Advantage” and “The Next Sustainability Wave.”


The Wisconsin DNR’s Green Tier Advantage Conference is a two-day event focused on environmentally sustainable business practices encouraged by the state’s Green Tier program.


The conference, held at the UW-Milwaukee School of Continuing Education, features a series of panel discussions with representatives from business, government, environmental advocacy groups and others. Sponsors include ABB, WisPolitics.com and Michels Corporation. The conference runs through Wednesday.


The conference was preceded by a half-day Executive Summit on Sustainable Business, which featured presentations geared toward top-level corporate executives on how sustainable practices can generate cost reductions, sales growth, energy savings and profits.