SB - The Event has arrived

After months of planning, Sustainable Business - The Event is finally here. John Haven explains why the show is so vital as business prepares for a low-carbon economy.

The Faversham House Group has been producing exhibitions and events for many years.

Its biggest by far is Sustainabilitylive!, a fairly new phenomenom, established as an umbrella encompassing the associated environmental and sustainability products held by the publishing house.

The long-standing expos Environmental Technology (ET), the National Energy Management Exhibition (Nemex) and Brownfield Expo (Bex, previously known as International Clean-Up) have been hugely successful for the group, and when in 2006 FHG bought the International Water Exhibition (Iwex), the umbrella opened and Sustainabilitylive! was born.

Visitors have enjoyed the concept ever since - a place to come, once a year to see, touch and even smell the new technologies hitting the market.

Odour monitors, energy-efficient pumps, solar panels, remediation solutions, gas analysers, stack emissions monitors - you name it, ET, Nemex, Bex and Iwex has it. And the shows have always offered an excellent platform for visitors to meet up with old friends, network with potential customers/suppliers/partners and make new contacts - whether that is in one of the seminar theatres, on the exhibition stands, at a coffee shop within the huge NEC complex or in one of Birmingham's bars in the evening.

But in all the event's activity and excitement surrounding the latest technology and product releases, there has been something missing at Sustainabilitylive!.

And that is the business focus. Never before has the environment agenda been so aligned to the economic one.

In general, businesses have for many years been attending shows like Sustainabilitylive! in a bid to find gadgets and gizmos that will enable them to stay within the law.

Monitoring, managing and analysing their environmental impacts on local air and water quality to ensure the Environment Agency is kept at bay has helped to establish a steadily growing environmental products and services sector in the UK. But the rules are changing and the goalposts have moved.

Environmental issues are no longer purely a matter of compliance. Being green is no longer about keeping the likes of Greenpeace and WWF off your back and making sure fines for performance are kept to a minimum.

Sustainability is all about business.

Energy efficiency is all about business. Improving environmental performance is all about business - getting the edge over the competition, bettering the bottom line, maximising returns and creating a company with a brand that stakeholders can trust.

Last month, chocolate company Mars promised to certify its entire cocoa supply chain by 2020, to ensure farmers in the developing world get a fair deal and to raise environmental and social standards across the board.

But as the firm's global director of plant science and external research Howard Shapiro says: "It's all about business." Mars' initiative is about doing the right thing, of course.

But ultimately it is a business decision; if farmers along the supply chain do not cultivate their crops properly, the supply of cocoa might dwindle in the future - and Mars could have a potential disaster on its hands.

What Sustainabilitylive! has been missing is a focus on these corporate issues and how all of the excellent products and services on show during the three-day expo relate to improving, not only the environment, but efficiency and return on investment.

Step forward then, Sustainable Business - The Event (SB - The Event), the child of FHG's Sustainabilitylive! team and the creators of the magazine, Sustainable Business, which takes to the stage for the first time this year.

SB - The Event offers a space for delegates to discuss some of the business decisions associated with sustainability as they mix with exhibitors showcasing products and services designed to help them do just that.

The event is to be centred around a unique three-day conference programme, developed by Sustainable Business editor Tom Idle. "We hope to echo the sentiment of the magazine - providing a snapshot of everything a business leader should be on top of in its quest to achieve a responsible and sustainable business," he says.

Day one tackles the policy drivers - both mandatory and voluntary - that have been designed by UK government and others to help establish a low-carbon economy. Ed Miliband, secretary of State for energy and climate change, will kick it off with a video address.

"This government has worked incredibly hard to bring about change and Miliband and his DECC [Department of Energy and Climate Change] will be instrumental to a global deal on climate change being negotiated," says Idle. "It's great to have him on board to endorse what we are trying to do with SB - The Event."

Central to the government's efforts is the Climate Change Act, passed by parliament at the end of last year and setting a hugely ambitious target for the UK to cut its overall greenhouse gas emissions by 80% by the year 2050.

"The Climate Change Act is huge," says Idle. "It sets the tone for the whole conference. If we are to have any chance of achieving those 80% cuts, business must be engaged. The supply chain must be engaged. And there needs to be a huge culture change among consumers - something really only achievable by business and government working incredibly close to one another."

Whether business is ready for this challenge or not is still unknown. But one man who might be able to provide an answer is Neil Bentley. He is the director of business environment at the CBI, and when Sustainable Business spoke to him last year, he seemed pretty confident that business is up for the task.

And, if anything, it demands that government policy stimulates it into action. Bentley's presentation will offer a frank assessment of where corporate UK is and where it needs to get to.

And the global deal on climate change to which Idle refers will hopefully come out of the UN's climate talks taking place this December in Copenhagen. Leading lawyer, Vanessa Harvard-Williams will give delegates a glimpse of what the likely implications of the Copenhagen discussions will mean for UK business.

"The opening presentations will offer an excellent snapshot of the state of play. It's up to business to drive things forward," says Idle, who will chair proceedings during the first session on Day One of the conference.

If Neil Bentley's assertion that business requires a stimulus for action is true, then the CBI will presumably be delighted with the forthcoming Carbon Reduction Commitment (CRC) legislation. The CRC is a cap-and-trade system, designed to encourage companies that have electricity bills of £500,000 or more to reduce their energy consumption.

When it comes into force next April, around 5,000 firms will be affected. The advice coming from government is for businesses to start preparing for the scheme now.

Idle believes the CRC is an "interesting mechanism" that will have a "huge impact". "But there is still a lot of confusion," he says. "Some of the companies I have spoken to don't really know where to begin." The second session on day one has been included to address this concern.

A representative from DECC (the minister responsible for the CRC, Joan Ruddock, has been invited) will give a succinct presentation on what the scheme is and how it will work and this will be followed by an excellent story presented by the London Underground's James Pitcher.

His organisation has been attempting to answer the question: 'What does the CRC mean for us?' for some time now, and Pitcher will hopefully have found an answer in time for his presentation.

To wrap up the morning session, that other, much more established, cap-and-trade system, the European Emissions Trading Scheme, will be explained in more detail. DECC's Catherine Pike will tell us what we can expect from the second and third phases of the scheme, which has been running, with mixed results, since 2005.

Once again, we'll get the business perspective - this time from EDF Energy - on how useful such mechanisms have been in, not only saving energy, but also cash.

After lunch, the focus is on the need for corporate transparency, a subject close to the heart of session-chair Kate Levick. She works at the Carbon Disclosure Project as head of government partnerships - a not-for-profit organisation that holds the world's biggest database on corporate carbon emissions.

Paul Scott, managing director at CorporateRegister.com, will support her case for better disclosure performance in his frank assessment of the state of global sustainability reporting.

Then Vodafone's head of corporate sustainability and reporting, Joaquim Croca will explain why his firm has been leading the field in this area, picking up many accolades along the way (including last month's best overall report trophy at the CR Awards).

The day is complete with a potentially stinging debate between representatives of various energy producing industries.

In the blue corner is John Constable, head of policy at the Renewable Energy Foundation. In the red corner is John McNamara, head of media at the Nuclear Industries Association.

And somewhere in the middle will be one of conference sponsor Parsons Brinckerhoff's technical directors highlighting the role carbon capture and storage might play in the UK's future energy mix.

Designed to offer something for everybody, the SB - The Event conference has been designed so that each day has a separate objective.

As discussed, day one tackles the mandatory and voluntary drivers pushing the agenda forward. Meanwhile, day two provides an insight into the business opportunities of the sustainability agenda; how companies can see climate change not purely as a threat to their future, but as a chance to use environmental issues as a springboard for future growth.

Forum for the Future's principal sustainability adviser, David Bent, and the Environmental Industries Commission's chief executive, Adrian Wilkes, will open proceedings, pondering how costly it will be if the UK decides to ignore climate change.

The Stern Review, the groundbreaking report that observed for the first time the financial implications of not acting on global warming, is now more than two years old.

But what has been learned in this time? And has Stern managed to convince the masses? These questions and more will no doubt be examined by Bent and Wilkes, who will be joined on the panel by Stephanie Meier, the head of research at EIRIS, the Ethical Investment Research Service.

Slowly but surely, more and more businesses are recognising that adopting sustainability principles is the way forward. But so few have taken steps to actually implement management strategies that place sustainability at the heart of their business operations.

In the second session of day two overseen by WWF's business-relations manager, Dax Lovegrove, delegates will get a chance to hear for themselves how to do it. Adnams, Microsoft, WHSmith, BSkyB and Eurostar are all very different businesses but, having recognised the value of adopting a green operation, all have started the process of embedding sustainability in their company.

The business leaders of each firm will tell their story. And Craig Bennett, deputy director of the Cambridge Programme for Sustainability Leadership, will offer his views on way leadership from the top is essential if sustainability is to be taken seriously - and not seen as a periphery issue.

You might argue that a business won't really maximise the value of its sustainability performance (beyond carbon savings) without communicating to its stakeholders what it has achieved.

The final day-two session focuses on how firms can gain the market advantage through stakeholder engagement, including presentations on carbon labelling as a communication tool (Martyn Seal, sustainability director of PepsiCo International), carbon offsetting (Peter Walsh from conference sponsor, First Climate), communicating sustainability to the media (Julian Walker-Pain, head of corporate policy for sustainability at Asda) and using green performance to retain and attract the best staff (Paul Gosling and Lauren Bailey from Allen & York).

Day three gets down to the nuts and bolts of cutting carbon. "The third day gets to the meat of the issue - how to do it," says conference organiser, Idle.

A subject Sustainable Business has attempted to uncover within its pages in recent months is carbon footprinting - a hugely complex and confusing activity, whose mixed successes have mainly been within the consumer-facing retail sector. The first session will take the debate forward again, with Cadbury-Schweppes' head of environment, Ian Walsh, giving context to the presentations from Nicky Chambers, strategy director with Best Foot Forward and Will Temple-Smith, head of data and tools at the Carbon Trust - developer of the PAS 2050, a common standard for doing lifecycle assessments of products.

"There is still plenty of confusion surrounding footprinting," says Idle. "But this session will hopefully explode some of the myths."

Elsewhere, Ikea's Charlie Browne, BT's David Bond and Hewlett-Packard's Bruno Zago will explore minimising resources, influencing the supply chain and designing out carbon in product design, respectively. While, IBM's Michael Stephenson will explain how and why the IT sector can and should play an important role in the fight against climate change.

With 60% of the UK's greenhouse gas emissions arising from its building stock, SB - The Event is right to include a dedicated session on how to create a low-carbon workplace.

Help and information on delivering new eco-buildings is well served by existing conferences and exhibitions such as Ecobuild, so the focus here is on the existing stock. "Driving carbon down within our existing buildings is going to be a huge challenge," says Idle.

"With the new-build market pretty much catered for with codes of practice and good targets, the real problem is the buildings we already have and this is where the attention must be directed." The presentation from the Department for Communities and Local Government's John Fiennes will shed light on whether Idle is right to be concerned.

Fiennes will follow GVA Grimley's Miles Keeping - the chair of the session - who will explain how Energy Performance Certificates and Display Energy Certificates might drive, not only better energy performance, but also increased property prices in the future.

Elsewhere, there is a case study presentation from Mark Farmer of the Epic Centre - a conference building in Lincolnshire, which has managed to get the economics to stack up on installing micro energy generation on site.

The conference concludes with a session on sustainable transport strategies. Maintaining the event's model of intertwining business stories with industry and government perspectives, chair Jonathan Murray from the Low Carbon Vehicle Partnership future-gazes at the government policy likely to drive low-impact vehicles of the future and the John Lewis Partnership's David Sheppard and TNT's Neil Griffiths provide support, telling their tales of developing sustainable transport plans.

SB - The Event is an ambitious event that examines some huge business issues. Idle just wishes he had more than three days in which to examine them.

"Most of the sessions could be expanded into three-day events on their own," he says. "But this event is all about getting to the heart of the big issues; explaining what needs to be done and how to do it."

Sustainable Business - The Event runs alongside Sustainabilitylive! between 19-21 May at the NEC, Birmingham.

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