Elizabeth Scharpf, the founder of Sustainable Health Enterprises (SHE), wrote an interesting column for Reuters the other day, called Why “sustainability” should be more than just a meaningless buzzword.

In her piece, Ms. Scharpf outlines the evolution of the term “sustainability” from its early use by environmentalists to being embraced by a small group of progressive companies like The Body Shop and Ben & Jerry’s and, ultimately, to being co-opted by some multinational corporations to better pitch their products to an increasingly value-driven customer base.

Important stuff.

Two of the problems Ms. Scharpf points out with the phenomenon of large companies embracing the language (but not the actions) of sustainability is that it both misleads investors looking for “sustainable” investments and dupes consumers looking for green products.

In the case of her own Rwandan-based business, she emphasizes listening to every person involved in the supply chain as key to ensuring sustainability. In other words, collaboration.

When I first read the headline of her timely piece, I couldn’t help but think of the logging company at the centre of much of the controversy in the Boreal Forest these days: Resolute Forest Products. True, they’re suing me for $7,000,000 and are top of mind, but when I think of sustainability being a “meaningless buzzword” there are few companies that better fit the description.

The company seems to have shown up at the North American Forest Products Conference in California the past day or so, presumably to announce to the world that it will immediately suspend operations in threatened caribou habitat, recognize the right to free, prior and informed consent of First Nations communities, launch an innovative new recycled line and drop their meritless lawsuit against Greenpeace.

And then pigs will fly majestically over the conference in a “sustainability swarm”…

But back in the real world, what’s holding Resolute back? Why do they talk about the importance of sustainability and corporate responsibility but fail to embrace scientifically necessary steps to conserve the habitat of iconic species or to embrace the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples? I guess they reckon this kind of language appeals to their investors and customers. Unfortunately, for Resolute, these audiences can only be fooled for so long, as controversy surrounding the company’s activities grows daily.

But what’s holding them back from going beyond words into actions? I think, in many respects, that Ms. Scharpf’s piece holds the answer – the company needs to start listening to people. To really embrace sustainability in the 21st Century, you need to collaborate. Collaboration takes work. It takes compromise. And it takes leadership.

Despite our differences, Greenpeace is continuing to call on Resolute to sit down and talk conservation and sustainable forest use. Greenpeace is committed to collaboration. I challenge Resolute to accept our call.

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