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Corporations are Parts of Our Community Too

Non-profit Sustainable Silicon Valley thinks big by advocating sustainability mindset in corporations through individuals.

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In the spirit corporate social responsibility (CSR), I had a wonderful opportunity to chat with Marianna Grossman, Executive Director of non-profit Sustainable Silicon Valley (SSV), whose work brings together key players in Silicon Valley to inspire innovation for a sustainable future. Recognising that corporations, government entities, and other institutions form a big part of the Silicon Valley ecosystem, SSV seek partnerships with many of these organizations - from Google to PG&E - and provide sustainability programs, such as consulting services and WEST (water energy smart technology) summit, for them to drive working solutions in their own organizations.

To SSV, the vision of a ‘clean, regenerative economy’ can be achieved through educating individuals in these organizations about sustainability, driving collaboration between these key players and producing working ‘roadmaps’ that can be transferred to other communities around the world.

There is no doubt that Marianna is passionate about sustainability issues; we spoke - even debated, at one point - at length about the reasons why businesses should care about sustainability at all. A graduate of Dartmouth College and Yale School of Management, Marianna held many positions in technology sector as well as non-profits before her current leadership role at SSV. From our conversation, her words embodied unwavering commitment to a sustainable future and a sense of responsibility for the next generation - I want to be able to look my children in the eye and say that I’ve done the best I can for their future, she said. It was touching and inspiring to hear that she is shouldering the responsibility of a generation.

One of the questions that I asked struck a chord with her: if businesses have a bottom line (turning profits) that is short-term, how do we align their understanding with the long-term consequences of their sustainability actions which ultimately lead to climate change? To her, the key is accounting for future risk of their business operations. No stranger to the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize awardee Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) - whose Working Group II produced extensive research on evaluating the impacts and risks of climate change - Marianna’s insight into our economic ecosystem helped her understand that energy, water, waste, and food are all interconnected, and that risks in any of these sectors will have ripple effects onto the other.

“What would you do if there’s no food and you have a family to feed?", she asked me, matter-of-factly. Hoard, I responded, too quickly, while imagining such a catastrophic event. And it dawned on me that, without resource stability and a regenerative economy that SSV is trying very hard to promote, the tragedy of the commons and the every-man-for-himself situation could well be a reality. Circling back to business operations, having a stable and affordable resource such as water or raw materials, is vital to their survival.

A company like Apple, for example, relies heavily on aluminum, glass, and plastic parts AND a healthy market where people can afford their products without worrying about clean water, energy security, or their next meal. By incorporating risks into their accounting system today - in the form of carbon prices, say, in the example of transitioning to renewables - businesses would be able to prolong their own existence. While companies like Google are already heavily involved in generating energy from solar and wind, and investing on the order of a billion dollars on clean energy projects, Marianna is not taking any chances with Silicon Valley and is being proactive in helping companies become sustainable.

Just as individuals have a hand in shaping our sustainable future, so do these influential corporations and government organizations. And if we recognize our leverage as a consumer and an active member of these entities, we would be well on our way towards a transition to a renewable energy future.

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