The United States Business Council for Sustainable Development began in 1992 with the innovative, cross-boundary thinking of a few company leaders in the Gulf of Mexico region. They wanted to know what benefits sustainable development might offer, and decided that the best way to find out was through collaborative projects that could be assessed, measured and replicated. Early projects on water, ecosystems, accounting and metrics led to the successful launch of the first By-Product Synergy project in Tampico, Mexico in 1997. This successful initiative, based on the premise that regional companies could find valuable synergies among themselves if only they could understand each other’s operations sufficiently, has led to projects around the world and expanded to include a number of focus areas including water, ecosystems, energy and materials. Twenty years later, as one of 60 national business councils in the World BCSD’s global network, the US BCSD continues to demonstrate the business value of sustainable development and the power of collaborative methodologies.
Early Beginnings: Birth of By-Product Synergy and The Business Council for Sustainable Development-Gulf of Mexico
In late 1992, a few months after the United Nations sponsored “Rio Earth Summit,” Andrew Mangan began meeting with a select group of company leaders who had contributed to the Summit as members of a 50-CEO initiative called the Business Council for Sustainable Development. Mangan sought out those with operations in the Gulf of Mexico region – Conoco, Dupont, BFI, Ciba Geigy, Grupo IMSA – and asked if they would be interested in using the Gulf region as a proving ground for the sustainability ideas they had advanced in Rio. The North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) was being finalized, offering the opportunity to test bi-national sustainability approaches under the new trade agreement.
Commitment by 25 companies led to the establishment of the Business Council for Sustainable Development – Gulf of Mexico to “forge regional cross-border public-private partnerships that promote and implement sustainable development.” The agreed upon methodology would be demonstration projects designed by participating companies. Early projects included work on water, ecosystems, afforestation and accounting. The group’s most successful initiative was by-product synergy, a cross-industry material reuse approach originally defined by Dr. Gordon Forward, then-CEO of Chaparral Steel. It hinged on the idea that companies in any region could find beneficial synergies among themselves if only they could understand each other’s operations.
Responding to environmental needs and growing opportunities, the business council launched the Lower Mississippi Alluvial Valley Afforestation Project. The project leveraged public-private collaboration and financing to re-forest 70,000 acres in the LMAV by 2005 with mixed hardwood species, develop pathways for selling carbon and/or nutrients sequestration credits, and to obtain sustainable certification for forests established by the project. The project delivered multiple environmental, social, and economic benefits at farm, regional, and international scales.
Expanded Focus and Launch of the US BCSD
In 2002, the US and Mexican companies decided to apply their focus on their respective countries’ sustainability needs, leading to the dissolution of the BCSD-GM and the establishment of the US Business Council for Sustainable Development (US BCSD). The new US Business Council continued the expansion of by-product synergy and growth into new markets. It helped to establish BPS projects in Great Britain (the National Industrial Symbiosis Programme, or NISP) and in communities across the U.S., including Chicago (Waste to Profit Network), Columbus, Houston, Kansas City, Mobile, and Seattle.
Past to Present: US BCSD Growth and Strategic Direction
Presently, the US BCSD has over 60 actively engaged member companies and organizations, with a range of successful projects around the country. US BCSD operating activities are organized under five primary focus areas – By-Product Synergy; Business, Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services; Energy Efficiency in Buildings; US-China EcoPartnership; and Water – which provide a structural framework for our operations. As always, these five areas respond directly to our members’ most important sustainability goals, industry drivers, societal interests and growing environmental pressures; and are founded on the council’s long-standing and successful collaborative methodology.
Never before has the future held as many questions, and with such serious consequences depending on the answers. And never before has the shape of the future depended so much on what we – business, government, citizens – do today. The US BCSD will continue to create clear, actionable and cost effective opportunities for companies and organizations – large and small – to pave the way to a more sustainable future. – WBCSD Vision 2050