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VOL. 127 | NO. 84 | Monday, April 30, 2012

MBBA Panel Puts Focus on Sustainability

By Aisling Maki

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Members of the region’s corporate, academic, government and nonprofit sectors seeking more knowledge about best practices in sustainability packed the ballroom of The University Club, 1346 Central Ave., on Thursday, April 26, for a luncheon panel discussion hosted by Memphis Bioworks Business Association.

The association works to promote and advance the bioscience business community in the Memphis region, providing programs, events and communications to keep its members abreast of the rapidly changing bioscience industry.

Moderating Thursday’s diverse panel, which included representatives from two corporations, one nonprofit, and one government office, was Mitch Jackson,

staff vice president of Environmental Affairs & Sustainability at FedEx Corp.

Panelists were Jim Fitzhenry, vice president of Research & Development at Buckman Laboratories; William A. Gillon, chairman of the board at Agricenter International; Don Young, senior vice president of Corporate Sustainability at Smith & Nephew; and Paul Young, administrator of the Memphis & Shelby County Office of Sustainability.

The discussion covered a wide range of topics, including corporate commitment to sustainable practices, the implementation of programs to reduce companies’ carbon footprints, barriers to sustainable practices, and collaboration and community partnerships to advance sustainability.

“Historically, Buckman has been committed to sustainability,” said Fitzhenry of Buckman Laboratories, which manufactures specialty chemicals for water treatment, pulp and paper, and the leather industry. “The responsibility for that sustainability has resided in each area of the company. For example, the manufacturing facility is responsible for their leg of it. … So we’ve developed a culture of sustainability throughout.”

He said that as corporate culture moved toward sustainability, there was a need to globalize Buckman’s greening efforts. While the company did not establish a formal office of sustainability, it did organize a team to gather data and ensure that a culture of sustainability is integrated throughout the organization.

Don Young of Smith & Nephew, the London-based medical device manufacturer whose orthopedics unit employs about 2,000 workers in Memphis, said there’s no perfect, single model for implementing sustainable practices.

“You have to do what’s right for your business culture,” he said. “We believe that it has to be firmly embedded throughout the culture of business. At Smith & Nephew, we have done that for quite a while. It’s particularly driven by manufacturing teams that are using things like lean manufacturing to drive out energy use, waste reduction, and things such as that. But what we’re finding is that the transparency of and the expectations from very diverse sets of stakeholders are really driving the board of directors to be looking for an assurance that the company is providing that level of commitment.”

Paul Young stepped into his role last April when the Memphis & Shelby County Office of Sustainability was launched as part of the joint city-county Office of Planning and Development. The creation of the office stemmed from the work of its predecessor, the Sustainable Shelby initiative.

“The way that our office is involved is that we are working to develop metrics to help our divisions be able to measure their progress on sustainability,” he said. “Are they being cognitive of how much energy they consume, of how much they can recycle? And just in the projects that they take on daily, are they thinking about the overall sustainability of our community?”

Gillon, who comes from an agricultural background in the cotton industry, is chairman of the board at Agricenter International, the world’s largest urban farm. The nonprofit organization is heavily involved in agricultural biotechnology research, which includes growing alternative, renewable crops such as canola, sunflower and switch grass that could be used to produce unique food products, plant-based chemicals and biofuels.

“Conservation is an old word that we worried about a long time before we put the moniker of sustainability on it,” Gillon said. “And certainly it’s something that I’ve worried about since childhood because my dad worried about it on the farm. So from agriculture’s perspective, conservation is an integral part of sustainability in agriculture.”

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