A growing environmental movement was spreading across America in the 1970s. As it gained traction in the small, vibrant college town of Ft. Collins, Colo. — home to Colorado State University — it helped influence a generation of budding conservationists, including Justin Ward, Vice President of Business Practices in CI's Center for Environmental Leadership in Business (CELB).
Justin recalls the era as "a dynamic time for environmental policy, with landmark debates on wilderness preservation, clean air, clean water, energy and other key issues." This early influence, Justin says, "reinforced my interest in public affairs and the environment … and probably influenced my career choice."
A New Kind of Environmental Movement: Corporate Responsibility
Flash forward to today. The same debates still occur. But what wasn't the case in the 1970s is that the environmental movement now has a new partner — one with global influence.
Walmart, Starbucks, McDonald's, Office Depot, Disney and JPMorgan Chase are just a few of the more than 30 companies and corporate alliances that have partnered with CI to work toward a more sustainable future for the planet, all while protecting the natural resources needed for a prosperous business future.
The objective of these partnerships is simple: harnessing business ingenuity to create environmental solutions.
"We talk a lot these days about how people need nature to thrive," Justin says. "By the same token, the corporate world is waking up to realize business needs nature to thrive."
Another difference between today and 30 years ago? The challenges we face are even more daunting. "Today, threats to healthy ecosystems are greater than ever before, and many of these threats are brought on by the very industries we are trying to engage for improved environmental performance," Justin says.
As CELB commemorates ten successful years in 2011, Justin finds inspiration in the progress the organization has achieved to date.
"Our goals can turn into tangible results we can celebrate in our lifetimes," he says.
How Companies Pay it Forward
CI and its corporate partners have accomplished much, Justin says. They've created strong partnerships, promoted green innovation within mainstream corporate strategy, and made biodiversity and healthy ecosystems core elements of corporate sustainability plans.
Since 2000, CELB has mobilized more than $125 million in corporate funding that has been put to work for conservation, Justin reports — and partners continue to finance innovative conservation efforts. In 2010, for example, JPMorgan Chase Foundation awarded a $1 million grant to CI for REDD+ project development.
These commitments aren't just financial. CI has also worked with leading corporations on precedent-setting field projects in more than 20 countries, "demonstrating positive on-the-ground results for people and healthy ecosystems."
Starbucks, for example, is supporting projects in Mexico and Indonesia to demonstrate how sustainable coffee-growing practices can contribute to climate-change solutions and improved livelihoods for farmers. These projects are feeding into Starbucks' C.A.F.E. Practices, Justin says, "which has become the industry standard for sustainable coffee sourcing."
Disney has made one of the largest contributions of its kind for forest carbon projects in the Democratic Republic of Congo and Peru. "The Disney investment is especially noteworthy because it fits within a broader portfolio of actions by the company to cut energy and water consumption and reduce greenhouse gas emissions," Justin says.
FEATURE: Disney's Commitment to REDD
CI has even tapped the marketing capabilities of global giants like McDonald's. In Europe, CELB partnered with McDonald's on an "Endangered Species Happy Meal" promotion to showcase biodiversity issues in more than 6,000 restaurants throughout the continent.
Justin is particularly proud of CELB's work helping companies transform their business practices, such as Walmart's 21st Century Leadership Strategy for sustainability, announced in 2005. The strategy articulates Walmart's long-term goals to achieve zero waste, shift completely to renewable energy, and offer products that are 100 percent sustainable.
FROM THE BLOG: Walmart takes new steps to support sustainable agriculture
These best practices are translating into real results, including Walmart's new Sustainable Agriculture Platform — in which the company has set a target of sourcing only certified sustainable palm oil for its private-label products.
From an Environmental Movement to an Environmental Following
Before coming to CI, Justin studied at several institutions — first as a humanities major at the University of Colorado, Boulder; then transferring to finish his bachelor's degree in geography at the University of Montana; and finally completing his master's degree at the University of Minnesota's Humphrey Institute of Public Affairs. He interspersed his education with years of skiing and working in Colorado and Alaska.
Justin first began collaborating with CI while a member of the Natural Resources Defense Council staff in the late 1990s. He came to CI in April 2000 to direct CELB's program on Agriculture, Forestry & Fisheries — a position he held until 2007, when he became Vice President of Business Practices.
Now nearing his 11th year at CI, Justin looks to a future where more companies will come to understand the important connection between nature and business.
"It is motivating to work every day with counterparts in the business sector who, contrary to some stereotypes of corporate attitudes, share our passion for CI's mission."
LEARN MORE: The Center for Environmental Leadership in Business