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Integrating Sustainability: Insights from the Wisconsin Sustainable Business Council

Circular economy concept with wooden cubes
Credit: iStock/pcess609

Manufacturers are under increasing pressure from consumers, retailers, investors, and regulatory agencies to act on sustainability and to verify the sustainability of their products and practices. Given the array of issues related to sustainability, navigating the demands can be complex and resource-intensive. For well over a decade, Wisconsin has been working on a solution that cuts through the complexity and helps companies develop and enhance their sustainability or environmental, social, and governance (ESG) actions, saving them time and money and helping retain customers, find new customers, and attract and retain employees.

In the heartland of America, where dairy farms dot the landscape, the spirit of conservation runs deep. The Wisconsin Manufacturing Extension Partnership (part of the MEP National Network™) works with strategic partners, such as the Wisconsin Sustainable Business Council (WSBC), to provide additional services and information to Wisconsin manufacturers. Together with the WSBC, the MEP Center’s suite of sustainability services supports manufacturers to advance sustainability programs, increase efficiency, and get the credentials needed to integrate and operate sustainably.

The WSBC stands as an example of innovation and responsible business leadership. Its mission is to advance sustainable principles and practices forward through the power of business. The recent WSBC Conference showcased a standing commitment to sustainability from regional businesses. That commitment went beyond mere lip service and offered a platform for businesses to connect, learn, and grow in a sustainable direction.

The Wisconsin Sustainable Business Council Conference: A gathering of green minds

The annual WSBC Conference brings together a diverse array of businesses, thought leaders, and sustainability enthusiasts. The event serves as a showcase of best practices, fostering collaboration and knowledge-sharing among participating businesses. From panel discussions on renewable energy to long-term strategies for reducing greenhouse gases and supply chain solutions, the conference covers the entire spectrum of sustainable business practices, meeting businesses where they are to help take them to the next step of their journey.

Last year’s conference was held in Madison, Wisconsin, and was a sold-out event. The programming emphasized businesses’ critical role in shaping a sustainable future and showcased success stories of companies that have integrated sustainability into their core values, highlighting not only the environmental benefits but also the positive impact on the bottom line. 

A business case for sustainability

In today’s rapidly evolving business landscape, sustainability is more than a buzzword — it has become a strategic imperative that can transform the way companies operate and thrive. Companies at the conference are there to share the value they are seeing in sustainability. From environmental stewardship to social responsibility, businesses are increasingly recognizing the myriad benefits that sustainable practices offer. A few examples include: 

  • Cost savings and efficiency: Sustainability often goes hand in hand with resource efficiency. When you invest in energy-efficient technology, streamlined operations, and waste elimination, these actions positively impact the bottom line.
  • Enhanced reputation and market access: Consumers are becoming more discerning and actively seeking out businesses with a commitment to sustainability. A positive environmental and social impact can significantly enhance a company’s reputation and access to markets they may not realize exist for them. 
  • Regulatory compliance and risk mitigation: Sustainability initiatives often align with, and sometimes even preempt, changing regulatory landscapes. Adopting systems that allow you to track and monitor your impact allows you to stay ahead of compliance requirements and reduce the risk of legal issues. This is especially true for companies working with the European Union. Additionally, sustainable practices help companies mitigate potential risks associated with resource scarcity, supply chain disruptions, and other environmental challenges associated with a changing climate.
  • Employee engagement and talent attraction: Businesses that demonstrate a commitment to sustainability are more likely to attract and retain top talent. Employees are more engaged when they feel their work contributes to the greater good, fostering a positive and productive workplace culture.
  • Innovation and market differentiation: Sustainability can drive innovation. Companies that prioritize sustainability are often forced to think creatively about their processes, products, and services. This commitment to innovation not only helps businesses stay ahead of the curve but also positions them as industry leaders. Sustainable practices can be a powerful differentiator in a competitive market, appealing to environmentally conscious consumers and setting your brand apart. 

The path to sustainability: Resources and support

The WSBC provides resources and support for businesses looking to adopt and integrate sustainable practices. This includes access to a network of individuals working on ESG and sustainability — a place to share best practices and stay informed about the latest trends in sustainability.

Educational webinars, workshops, and networking opportunities are an important part of the process. This creates a community that aligns businesses with a sustainability focused framework. It provides the tools, knowledge, and support system for them to thrive in an increasingly competitive and eco-conscious market.

Green Masters Program®: A supply chain game-changer

One standout feature of the WSBC’s initiatives is the Green Masters Program®, a comprehensive sustainability assessment and recognition platform. The Green Masters Program® is a tool to prioritize, measure, and manage a company’s sustainability performance. The virtual platform was purpose-built as a scalable standard for measuring and improving ESG impacts material to each organization and their stakeholders. It supports the development of business systems, helps generate best practice ideas to implement, and tracks performance improvements over time. The Green Masters Program® serves as a valuable supply chain engagement tool, enabling support for suppliers to integrate sustainability tracking into business systems and identify areas for improvement while showcasing their commitment to continuous improvement and sustainability. 

Participation in the Green Masters Program® is a strategic move that can enhance a company’s competitiveness in the marketplace. It also provides recognition as an organization grows its sustainability program, categorizing participants into four status levels that reflect the degree to which sustainability has been integrated into their business models. By evaluating and improving sustainability practices, businesses can streamline their supply chains, reduce costs, and appeal to an ever-growing mindful workforce and customer base.

A sustainable tomorrow starts today

As businesses worldwide grapple with the challenges of a changing climate and heightened environmental awareness, the Wisconsin Sustainable Business Council helps companies navigate the path toward sustainability.

The Wisconsin MEP collaborates closely with the WSBC to foster sustainable practices within the manufacturing industry, driving innovation, environmental responsibility, and economic growth hand in hand. Together they offer a full suite of support programs and sustainability services to support companies navigating the business case for sustainability. With sustainability consulting services, WSBC’s Annual Conference, and the Green Masters Program®, collectively we are a catalyst for positive change, fostering a community of businesses committed to making a difference. In Wisconsin, the winds of change are blowing, and they carry with them the promise of a more sustainable tomorrow, one business at a time.

About the author

Jessy Servi Ortiz

Jessy Servi Ortiz

Jessy Servi Ortiz is the Managing Director of the Wisconsin Sustainable Business Council (WSBC), which is owned and operated by the Wisconsin Manufacturing Extension Partnership. As a member-driven organization, the WSBC offers tools and services to educate, assess, and integrate business-based sustainability practices. Jessy’s background includes sustainability program design and management, regenerative agriculture, design systems, and business. She has experience in developing and managing sustainability programs, including strategy, engagement, communication, and collaborating across departments to develop, track, and oversee KPIs.

Jessy is the co-founder and co-chair of the (Wisconsin) Women in Sustainability group, a network of professionals working to advance sustainability across Wisconsin. She also serves as an advisor to the UW Sustainable Management Program through UW Extended Campus and has won honors and awards for her work and leadership. Jessy previously worked as a sustainability manager for Outpost Natural Foods in Milwaukee and earned her MBA in sustainable business management in 2013. She holds several certificates, including Lean Process, Permaculture, and Regenerative Design, and is a certified professional coach. 

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