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CEO Thought Leadership Series from Trade Show

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COMMIT! Forum – John Friedman

John Friedman, Sustainability Manager at WGL Holdings, spoke with D S Simon Media’s SVP of Client Services, Sarah Katz, about sustainability within the business world.

“I think brands need to look at what it is their business does, not just what it makes. So what’s the impact that what your products or services have on the people who use those products and services? And that will help you find your purpose.”

SARAH KATZ: We’re here at the Commit Forum 2017 at the MGM National Harbor. I’m here with John Friedman. He’s sustainability manager of WGL Holdings and he has been quite the presence today so far in day one, having moderated a panel at the beginning of the conference and just had a conversation on sustainability goals with Megan DeYoung and is here to tell us a little bit about lessons he’s learned so far. So what have you learned?

JOHN FRIEDMAN: Well, so far, I think the themes that are coming through for me are the need to adopt business language when we talk about sustainability or sustainable development goals. If we want to be part of the business, we have to start coming to the rest of the business in terms of how we present things and not get hung up on people understanding this is SDG number five or seven or what have you. Another thing is that it’s hard to turn the ship.
Sometimes small, quick wins– or maybe not so quick– can establish the credibility that what we’re doing is actually driving the business, whether it’s helping the corporate reputation, reducing costs, or changing our reputation in the community. And those things become the things that the c-suite is looking for. And so then it becomes a conversation of what else can you do for us?

SARAH KATZ: Yeah. And I think one of the things you and Megan spoke about was taking those conversations and taking them down the path to action. There are some roadblocks in there and she shared some new data about what are your thoughts on that?

JOHN FRIEDMAN: Well, I think the encouraging thing for me is she points out with this new research, 38% of companies are talking actively about the SDGs. That’s 38% of Fortune 50, the top Fortune 50 in the US, are talking actively about the sustainable development goals. And if you look back on it, it was only 18 months ago that the SDGs were officially launched.
Sure, some of us in the space have been working a great deal behind the scenes to make that happen. But 18 months after something was released to have it adopted by over a third of the Fortune 50, that’s actual success. And we’re also seeing the percentage of those companies bringing it to action. They’re starting to measure it, and they’re starting to engage with their employees and their stakeholders about these issues.

SARAH KATZ: And moving forward, how do you see brands continuing to take a stand beyond just the SDGs?

JOHN FRIEDMAN: I think brands need to look at what it is their business does, not just what it makes. So what’s the impact that what your products or services have on the people who use those products and services? And that will help you find your purpose. So for my company, it was all about energy. Our purpose is to provide the right energy to the right people who need it in the right form in its most efficient way.

SARAH KATZ: Great. And your company also provided all the carbon credits for the conference today, so we all appreciate that having had to fly and drive and train. And so thank you for doing your part here today as well.

JOHN FRIEDMAN: Thank you.