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February 16, 2006
Event Merges Dollars and Sense

 

At first, the title for the upcoming Sustainable Opportunities Summit might suggest an "only-in-Boulder" discussion of small-scale alternative energy - but only until one looks at the list of participants.

The Feb. 22-24 series has attracted speakers from Ford Motor Company, Merrill Lynch, Sun Microsystems and National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL), as well as smaller firms, to a Summit co-hosted by the Denver-based trade association Connected Organizations for a Responsible Economy (CORE) and the CU Leeds School of Business.

Bud McGrath, CORE executive director, said the presence of big-name corporations at the Summit alongside smaller operations such as Blue Sun Biodiesel or Aurora Organic Dairy means at least one thing.

"It's a case of that mainstream large businesses are finally getting the idea of sustainable business," said McGrath. "It's something that's been going on in Europe for a long time. Ford itself has said 'This is not lip service, we're changing the way we do business.'"

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Niel Golightly, Ford Motor Company's Director of Sustainable Business Practices, will be the leadoff Summit speaker for the Feb. 24 sessions. It's been well-publicized that Toyota, the producer of the popular gas-sipping Prius hybrid vehicles, had a very good business year in 2005 - in fact, Toyota posted a $3.4 billion profit for the fourth quarter alone, according to the Web site www.nytimes.com.

On the other hand, General Motors lost $8.6 billion last year, according to www.yahoo.com and Ford lost $1.6 billion in North America, although Ford posted a $2 billion overall profit in 2005, according to www.media.ford.com.

Tim O'Brien, Ford's Vice President of Corporate Affairs, has noticed.

"Ford Motor Company's blueprint for the company's future focuses every aspect of the business on innovation as its core strategy," said O'Brien through a press release. "We see a commitment to flexible fuel vehicles and the development of other promising future alternatives to today's gasoline engines as key components of that innovation - there are enormous business opportunities in taking leadership in this emerging area."

The Robert H. and Beverly A. Deming Center for Entrepreneurship at Leeds will co-host the Summit with CORE, while the Deming Center and other Leeds branches will host several competitions during the Sustainable Opportunities Week, Feb. 21-25.

The Sustainable Venturing Business Plan competition, hosted by the Deming Center, involves students submitting venture-grade, for-profit business models and/or technologies with high growth potential. The Impact Case Competition, hosted by the Leeds Center for Business and Society and Net Impact, will ask MBA students to analyze a company and present solutions, addressing both profitability and sustainability.

Bill Vass, Sun Microsystems chief information officer, will give a keynote speech at the start of the Feb. 23 "Cutting Edge Strategies and Opportunities" session. Most modern American businesses use electronics in spades, and Sun is designing efficient new technologies that reduce the use of energy and other resources and take up less space.

For example, a 2005 Sun press release called its UltraSPARC® T1 processor the "hybrid engine of the processor world" because of its "breakthrough innovations" in power, cooling and performance, and Vass said Sun has a commitment to offering environmentally-friendly products as part of a business strategy.

"Large corporations are in a position to set an example of how we can use resources to the benefit of today's productivity without depleting resources for tomorrow's businesses," said Vass in a press release. "And it's good business sense not to waste your supplies."

McGrath said the 250-person CORE organization formed after a 2005 merger between the Colorado Environmental Business Alliance (CEBA) and the sustainable business organization P3Colorado. The three Ps stood for People, Planet and Profits.

He also said the term "sustainability" in business is not simply about conserving energy.

"It's anything from business ethics to community to the environment to how we treat our employees - the whole gamut of sustainability," said McGrath.

He said CORE intends to co-host a Summit with Leeds annually, and said it's obvious that companies able to market successful sustainable strategies and products have tremendous growth potential.

"One of our goals is to show that sustainability is not an industry-specific thing - it's a way of making business decisions," said McGrath.
By Richard Valenty

Colorado Daily Staff Writer

Sunday, February 12th, 2006, 9:12 MST

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