By Rebecca Lucore, Head of CSR and Sustainability, Covestro LLC
If 2020 has taught me anything, it’s this: when it comes to sustainability, the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (“UN SDGs”) got it 100 percent right.
Sustainability is a series of interconnections. Physical health is connected to economic health is connected to environmental health is connected to the health of our social institutions.
Nowhere were those interconnections on fuller display than at Covestro’s THINC30 summit this year — held virtually over three mornings in late October. They were exhilarating days filled with frank, honest conversations about how, in my hometown of Pittsburgh, businesses, organizations and individuals can collaborate to move the needle on a host of sustainability issues.
Over the three days, nearly 45 speakers, from national to local, shared concrete ways for our region — but really any region — to achieve social, environmental and economic equity. Here are some takeaways.
On the first day, experts weighed in how to create social equity in areas like health, nutrition and education.
Dr. Noble Maseru of the University of Pittsburgh’s Schools of Health Sciences drove home the notion that equity in public health is not singular in nature. To have healthy people, he explained, you have to have healthy social factors. Meaning people must have access to good jobs and wages, clean air and water, quality education and so forth. It’s a simple, logical idea that has huge implications as we work to correct longstanding racial bias.
Chris Norwood offered her perspective as executive director of Health People: Community Preventive Health Institute in NYC’s South Bronx. Even before COVID-19 began to ravage her community, type-2 diabetes had been — and continues to be — one of its top public health threats. But according to Norwood, it doesn’t have to be because “we know what works.” That is, proper patient education about self-care that can either prevent disease onset among pre-diabetics or dramatically improve the health of those who have type-2 diabetes and, in some cases, actually reverse it.
Much of it comes down to lifestyle choices, chiefly proper nutrition. Nutritious food, how to produce it sustainably and deliver it to those who need it was the topic of a panel that examined the creation of a local food supply chain. Besides benefits like increased job creation, less food waste, reduced consumption of energy and fuel, and fewer greenhouse gas emissions, localizing our food supply chain also will help alleviate the food shortages we experienced in the early days of the pandemic. It’s a complex undertaking but between the policy work of Chatham University’s Falk School of Sustainability & Environment and the “in the trenches” practices of the Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank, Laurel Vista Farms and The Oasis Project, we’re working to get there.
Day two conversations continued to show how disparities in one area — in this case, the environment — can create disparities in other areas like education, jobs and community investment. Correcting one, can impact the others.
Which is one reason why the City of Pittsburgh and its neighborhoods, organizations and businesses are stepping up their sustainability practices — with notable success.
Pittsburgh is one of only two U.S. cities that has officially adopted the UN SDGs and is aligning its practices and policies to them. Grant Ervin, Chief Resilience Officer, detailed how the city has moved to source 100 percent of its electricity from renewables. The UN SDGs also help the city understand the relationship between and among all sorts of things from procurement to investments to pedestrian infrastructure development.
Again, those interconnections have long been apparent to folks who live in the industrial neighborhoods of Millvale, Etna and Sharpsburg. New Sun Rising, a local NGO, has been instrumental in transforming these river towns into the TriBoro Ecodistrict — a truly national model of economic, environmental and social sustainability.
On the corporate side, David Landis of Epic Metals and Justine Russo of PITT OHIO shared their respective company’s sustainability journeys. For Epic, that journey began in 1968 when the company was founded in a barn it repurposed into a manufacturing facility. Today, its manufacturing facility in Florida operates on 100 percent solar energy, while its Pittsburgh operations rely on a combination of solar and wind energy. PITT OHIO, a leading trucking and logistics company which has made sustainability a core competency, is committed to lowering its carbon footprint through green fleet and building initiatives.
Finally, sustainability guru Laura Asiala offered advice to companies interested in integrating sustainability into their organizations. What’s critical, she said, is identifying that core group of committed people who can push the mission forward.
Committed people. Working together. It’s a refrain we heard often throughout the summit.
And, certainly true on day three when the topic of Economic Empowerment took center stage. As we rebuild our economy post-pandemic, how do we ensure one that is inclusive? One that gives everyone a fair shot to participate, whether entrepreneurs and business owners, or executives and professionals or inventors and innovators?
One thing is clear: you cannot fix economic injustice without capital.
For minority and female entrepreneurs, that’s where organizations like the Urban Redevelopment Authority of Pittsburgh (URA) and Riverside Center for Innovation come in. They provide financial and other resources, as well as the business network connections needed to nurture and grow business.
Micro-loans, in particular, are the kind of critical “first money in” that says “we believe in you and your business,” and signal to the private sector that these companies are ripe for investment. Because organizations like the URA can only do so much, the larger investment community needs to step up.
For minorities working in the region’s corporations and philanthropic organizations, attaining a seat in the C-suite is key to economic justice. It’s an imperative for a region where African Americans represent only 1% of executive leadership. It’s also where The Advanced Leadership Institute (TALI) is making important gains.
At TALI’s core is the Executive Leadership Academy, a world-class executive development program in partnership with Carnegie Mellon University that offers the tools, exposure and training necessary to prepare African American professionals to ascend and contribute to their organizations — and the community — at the highest level. TALI’s secret ingredient is its mentor-mentee approach where
professionals receive one-on-one executive coaching and mentoring from leading executives. The approach creates and solidifies important relationships meant to last.
Building diverse C-suites is important. Equally so is creating workplaces that are diverse, inclusive and compassionate. Covestro’s own D&I lead Dina Clark led a discussion with her peers on how they’re doing just that. While coming from diverse organizations — corporate, academic and nonprofit– they all agreed that with D&I at the center of seemingly everything, now is the time to bring people together, from the top-down and the bottom-up, to have the hard conversations that move us forward, equitably and empathetically. At the same time, to sustain today’s intentionality, we need to codify it with the proper tools and processes that build D&I into the fabric of our institutions.
Why all this matters
2020 has been such a tumultuous year. It threw into sharp view so many of the equity issues that have been apparent to many of us for far too long.
There is so much at stake in our world, in our country and in our local communities.
So much of the social upheaval and racial reckoning we’re experiencing today are rooted in long-standing imbalances that are no longer sustainable. The UN SDGs have provided Covestro with a framework for achieving our global sustainability goals, and with THINC30, we want to show how they can just as easily be used by communities, companies, organizations and individuals as we work together in the re-balancing work ahead.
We invite you to watch each day’s summit at www.covestro.us/thinc30-summit.
We hope it inspires you to Be the Change.