Leading the Sustainability Transformation: Covestro’s THINC30 Virtual Conference focuses on Sustainable Development in Pittsburgh–and Beyond

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As the Great Lakes Region–along with the rest of the world–continues to grapple with the coronavirus pandemic, economic uncertainty, racial justice reckoning, and the ever increasing impacts of the climate crisis, Covestro LLC took their annual THINC30 Conference online, focused for the fourth year on transforming, harnessing, innovating, navigating and collaborating for a purpose-driven, sustainable future by 2030. Rebecca Lucore, Covestro LLC’s head of CSR and Sustainability, served as host, convening people from the public, private, and social sector, using the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals as a focal point for social, economic and environmental recovery. She invited Laura Asiala, Senior Director of Business Engagement at the Council of the Great Lakes Region to share her experience and perspective for accelerating sustainable business development, public-private partnerships, and social innovation. Laura’s talk is featured below.

Laura Asiala, Senior Director of Business Engagement at the Council of the Great Lakes Region, spoke at Covestro’s THINC30 Conference October 20, 2020.

Planet or profit? People or profit? Making a difference or making a living?

These are all false choices.

My name is Laura Asiala, and if you remember nothing else today from my talk, I hope you will remember that when confronted with seemingly binary choices, there is always at least a third way, and that’s where the real innovation happens.

It just requires that we ‘THINC’ differently, which is why I’m so honored to be a part of these proceedings, and it’s with great appreciation to Covestro and Rebecca Lucore for pulling together leaders in this now much broader community, seeking to move from traditional to sustainable businesses, organizations, communities— the world.

I’ve spent the better part of 3 decades in a quest to make business better, to harness the enormous power  of capital, talent, and know-how to put it in service to the world, rather than the other way around. And there are three lessons I’ve learned that I’d like to share with you today.

First, profit it not a bad word.  However, you define or measure it, it will guide human behavior, just as it has for millennia. In business, profit is like oxygen.  If you can’t breathe, you can’t live, but we also don’t live to breathe. We live for greater purpose. It’s been my good fortune over the years to mentor people in the formative years of their careers, and I always tell them, don’t confuse tax status with misson. You can find lots of businesses working in service and earning a profit. My ideal is that someday that will be the definition of all business.

Secondly, you have to lead from where you stand.  It’s the only place to get leverage.  Everything else is just a leap. And for those of you working in businesses that are struggling—and it is hard work—to move from traditional single bottom line to a triple bottom line (environmental stewardship, equitable opportunity, and economic success), you still and always need to make the business case to step from where you are to where you want to go. Four things to remember here:

  1. All businesses require revenue growth and anytime you are able to expand beyond your current market with an eye of servicing people in affordable, valuable, and profitable ways, that’s a win.
  2. All businesses are constantly under pressure to reduce expenses, and one of the most straightforward way to do that is becoming more energy and resource efficient, which has the dual impact of lowering your footprint and your expenses. Operations, purchasing, logistics and other supply chain professionals are often the heroes in these efforts. Some of you may think ‘boring,’ but operations and logistics are exciting and impactful ways to make a difference.
  3. All businesses absolutely require talent. Those businesses making the move from traditional to sustainable, find it easier to attract, engage, and retain the human talent to deliver value to their customers, which in turn, translates to return on investment for their shareholders.
  4. All businesses require capital, and the better your performance in environmental, societal, and governance—or ESG–factors, the more attractive your equity and debt. Relatively higher stock prices; relatively lower interest rates. Who knew the Chief Sustainability Officer and Chief Financial Officer would become best friends?

Which brings me to my final point: find a friend or friends. Did I mention this is hard work? Nothing difficult is ever easy. Why does that always surprise us? 

Are you getting resistance in leading a sustainable transformation in your organization? Good. It’s working.

But this can be lonely work too, so find a friend, find your peeps.  Look around you—in this great virtual room there are lots of people that you can go to for encouragement, solace, practice, advice, ideas, and resources. Including me!  You’ll find me at the Council of the Great Lakes Region (you all are invited), WholeWorks, PYXERA Global, Net Impact, GreenBiz, LinkedIn. Feel free to connect and tell me how we ‘met’. 

I wish I was there in person today, of course. Doesn’t everyone? But the sliver of a silver lining in this year of horrific natural disasters, global pandemic, racial unrest, and economies that have screeched to a halt, is that this community has become much bigger.  Covestro used to encourage the community of Pittsburgh and the surrounding areas to ‘THINC’ differently to address global challenges, and today they’ve reached the shores of Lake Michigan–and beyond.  I’m grateful to have been in this room with you today. Thank you for including me.

About Covestro LLC:
Covestro LLC (www.covestro.com) is one of the leading producers of high-performance polymers in North America and is part of the global Covestro business, which is among the world’s largest polymer companies with 2019 sales of EUR 12.4 billion. Business activities are focused on the manufacture of high-tech polymer materials and the development of innovative solutions for products used in many areas of daily life. The main segments served are the automotive, construction, wood processing and furniture, electrical and electronics, and healthcare industries. Other sectors include sports and leisure, cosmetics and the chemical industry itself. Covestro has 30 production sites worldwide and employed approximately 17,200 people at the end of 2019.

City of Pittsburgh Photo by Jonathan Rivera on Unsplash