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Better business pledge

Marc Lefkowitz  |  12/03/07 @ 3:38pm

Fairmount Minerals' sustainability plan doesn't cost the Chardon mining company one copper penny, instead, it has measurably increased the bottom line while burnishing its reputation with both customers and regulators.

"(Sustainability) pays, it doesn't cost," Fairmount CEO Chuck Fowler said while speaking at Case's Weatherhead School of Management last Friday. The company's sustainability plan recently opened the door to a permit for a new mine site in Wisconsin, Fowler said, where a more conventional mining company from Texas was rejected.

While a glass, natural gas, and golf course sands operation is going to disturb the earth, Fairmount looks for sources for its waste products, such as a sand by-product that acts as a fertilizer for corn biodiesel growers. The company's 375 employees were invited to help conceive its 59 sustainability goals, including developing a system for calculating the environmental impacts of its transportation, a $2,000 incentive bonus for employees buying a hybrid vehicle, finding a reusable delivery container, and a restoration project that returned 600 acres of land to its natural state.

"To date, we've reached ninety-four percent of our goals," Fowler said. "And to put some teeth into this, half of our bonuses are based on reaching these goals."

Fairmount is in good company, joining 3,400 firms globally who signed the U.N. Global Compact, a voluntary effort that helps companies "do good" by internalizing the principles of People, Profit and Planet and externalizing them through action, said UN Global Compact's Head of Local Networks Soren Petersen.

Signing the Global Compact (GC) means a company agrees to follow ten principles in areas of human rights, labor, environment and anti-corruption. While there's no cost to sign, companies are required to file a progress report after two years.

Global Compact companies might already be on the right track. A recent Goldman Sachs study found that GC companies outperformed the market by twenty percent, Petersen added.

Semantac, the fourth largest software maker in the world, is one of those companies-although they sort of fell into the Global Compact. The California-based firm at first didn't see how it could make much of an impact on use of raw materials, said Cecily Joseph, director of corporate responsibility, but cajoling from customers, shareholders and younger staff led to some soul searching.

Signing the GC helped Semantec set and report on goals such as delivering seventy percent of software electronically, reducing their package materials when mailing, offering incentives to staff who commute by bike or transit, even designing new software to monitor office energy use.

In addition to single companies signing, some 60 networks comprised of non-profit groups, cities, a private firms are working on topics of concern, such as climate change or sustainable development. Since only 150 companies have signed the GC in the U.S. and networks are far fewer still, Northeast Ohio could be a leader in this area. A local GC network could help bring some organizational skill and leverage planning projects in the area such as the Cuyahoga Valley Initiative or a proposed fresh water center, said Cuyahoga County Planning Commission Director Paul Alsenas.

"We cannot apply sustainability in the abstract," he said. "We have to apply it to local conditions. We could be the area network that focuses on place-based assets and moving toward action."

What would the geography of a Northeast Ohio network look like? It might be based around the shores of Lake Erie or focused more specifically on a project such as the waste equals revenue, cradle-to-cradle business ventures going on in the Cuyahoga Valley, Alsenas added.

Alsenas pledged to join in the effort with Case's Center for Business as an Agent of World Benefit, who's director Ante Glavas, and founder David Cooperrider, are leading the efforts to sign businesses and form a network in Northeast Ohio.

If you are interested in joining the UN Global Compact and/or are interesting in being part of the design team for the region, email bawb@case.edu.

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