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A Decade of Sustainability

On December 13th, the 10th Annual Wisconsin Sustainable Business Conference will be held in Kohler. With the Kohler Company as our host, the Wisconsin Sustainable Business Council teams up with Cool Choices to present an opportunity to share, discuss, and collaborate around the intersection of business and sustainability. Wisconsin is home to a thriving and innovative business community that has been pushing the envelope in terms of environmental and social responsibility over the past decade. For the tenth year in a row, Wisconsin's sustainable business community will come together to collaborate. The sessions are designed to generate ideas, actions, and strategies that attendees can take back to their companies. Everyone should walk away with someone to call if they have questions about how to implement their goal.


"...a project that doesn't consult with with just one business, but works with hundreds of businesses all around the state."


Students at the University of Wisconsin - Madison have been enrolling in Environmental Studies 402: People Planet& Sustainability for over 22 years. Each fall, on the first day of class students review the syllabus with instructor Tom Eggert. In the first paragraph they read, "The goal of the course is to give students knowledge and skills to understand and act on the principles of sustainability and integrate this knowledge into a professional life." Academic institutions serve society by exploring the edges of knowledge and preparing students for a successful professional life. Few classes focus on the preparation for professional life more directly than this course. Students complete a final project where they consult with a local business to help them implement a sustainability initiative. Ten years ago, Tom approached his students with the idea for an alternative final project—a project that doesn't consult with just one business, but works with hundreds of businesses all around the state. That project became: organizing the first annual Wisconsin Sustainable Business Conference.

Recalling the first conference in 2008, Tom says, "It was a time when business interest was beginning to blossom in what sustainability meant to the business community and there were no local or even regional sources of information that were available to businesses regarding sustainability. So the thought was: let's do an event. Let's have businesses come together, learn from each other, and see if we meet a need.” Since the first conference in 2008, it has grown from 200 attendees to well over 400 attendees. This has allowed the conference planning team to draw on a much richer array of stories, accomplishments and lessons. We’ve established our annual conference as the premier event in the upper Midwest for companies interested in sustainable business.

John Mourand, Director of Regulatory Compliance & Sustainability with Briggs & Stratton, has attended the conference most years since its inception. He feels that in this time the conference has, “Moved from solely focusing on building & environmental improvement(s) to a full culture shift in bringing value to business through sustainability.” As a Wisconsin Sustainable Business Council board member, John values the conference as an opportunity for “Networking with peers in the industry and listening & learning from the small entrepreneurs to Fortune 500 companies.”


" to business education."


The Wisconsin Sustainable Business Conference is a truly special event. It reflects the friendly Midwestern spirit of Wisconsin. What makes the Wisconsin Sustainable Business Conference unique is that it's not businesses selling anything or advertising a specific good or service. It's truly business to business education. Kathy Kuntz, Executive Director of Cool Choices, likes to emphasize this when describing the conference to others, "What I really like about the conference is that it's all businesses talking to businesses about their actual experiences. A lot of what you hear when you go to industry conferences is consultants telling you how great things were for their clients. And here, at the Wisconsin Sustainable Business Conference, you've got folks talking about their experiences transforming fleets to compressed natural gas, and what they wish they had known in advance. It's much more genuine information and so much more powerful and actionable. It's really exciting to see how businesses build off of each other throughout the conference. It’s a really great thing."

The Wisconsin Sustainable Business Conference is unique by more than simply having a collaborative culture, the event is also carbon neutral. This is achieved through a variety of initiatives including a vegetarian menu. Conference goers are asked to provide their transportation information so the carbon emissions can be offset with purchased carbon tickets. Buses are provided from Madison and Milwaukee and carpooling is encouraged. Some favorites of conference goers are the reusable water bottles, mugs, and tote bags that attendees appreciate using long after the conference is over. Each year the Compass Group does a carbon audit to illustrate the impact of the conference.

The conference includes two keynote speakers. Attendees can choose from ten options for morning and afternoon breakout sessions facilitated by student organizers. Topics range from sustainability in the supply chain to sustainability certification schemes. Chris Schultz-Buechner, Director of Marketing & Corporate Communications at WECC: Wisconsin Energy Conservation Corporation, reflects on the 2015 conference held at the Harley Davidson Museum in Milwaukee, "I really liked the women in sustainability session. Sustainability is for everyone...but I think there is an opportunity for women whether they’re students or people who have been in the industry for a long time to get involved with sustainability and understand how that impacts what they do and how they're doing it. It doesn't have to be that you have a sustainable position. It could be that you're in a creative role, such as my position in marketing. But sustainability is such a piece of what we do and how we do things. But bringing that back and making sure that women understand their role--that is really important."

The 10th Annual WI Sustainable Business Conference will celebrate a decade of bringing businesses together to learn from each other. Kohler is an exceptional choice for our host this year as they have been such a leader in sustainability. We’ll hear from their CEO, and be able to tour their facilities. And, we’ll do it all at the American Club, one of the premier destinations in the state. Join us on December 13th.


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