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Friday, October 9, 2015

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Series promotes sustainable business practices

Tags: Columnists

Have you considered idea-sharing and networking as a way to help make the world a more sustainable place?

Brad Zarnett is the founder of the Toronto Sustainability Speaker Series (TSSS), a live and online community that celebrates sustainability innovation and leadership. Launched in 2008, TSSS dispels the myth that sustainability is a cost to for-profit and not-for-profit business, and shares the stories of companies and organizations that have found economic advantage by embracing sustainability.

TSSS holds events six to eight times a year. They are a learning opportunity and a networking forum to promote sustainable business practices.

Zarnett’s series is one of the only efforts I’ve come across in the Toronto area that combines physical meetings and extensive use of social media to share ideas and quantified results from action taken to reduce an organization’s impact on the environment. Nearly 2,300 people belong to the TSSS group on LinkedIn, where they engage in discussions.

I recently met Zarnett for lunch to better understand what drives him. “We live in a world where resources are increasingly scarce… [and] our climate is changing. Individual efforts at recycling and reduced consumption can only go so far. Business holds tremendous power – corporations have great potential to help us tread more softly upon our Earth,” he said.

Zarnett sees real opportunity for the Canadian Jewish community to show greater leadership toward a more sustainable world. “We can drive change through the businesses we operate, the schools our kids attend and the synagogues,” he said. “Judaism and environmental ethics have long been in harmony. Respect for the natural world is firmly rooted in our traditional texts.”

The biggest challenge for sustainability is that most people are neither prepared nor supported in their organizations to think innovatively. Old-style thinking focuses on quarterly results instead of assessing long-term impacts and possibilities. Zarnett is eager for the day when it becomes the community norm to focus on energy “consumption” rather than “expense.” He sees change in mindset as the foundation of a new way of seeing opportunities rather than limitations. Zarnett feels that for true change to happen, organizations must be offered direct incentives (for example, through government initiatives), and/or visionary leaders must inspire real change. With visionary leadership, a new culture becomes embedded in all aspects of the organization: business managers and community leaders understand that not having a holistic approach is unacceptable, while employees and volunteers learn that innovative out-of-the-box thinking is the new norm.

“Organizations that develop a culture of problem solving and support unconventional thinking will be best suited to thrive in the sustainability era. The real winners will be the ones who develop the human capital both within their organization and in their stakeholder community,” Zarnett said. “That human capital will present itself as sustainability change agents who will identify, imagine and implement the solutions needed to ensure more sustainable – and successful - operations.” Perhaps some of these organizations would benefit by participating in TSSS.  For more information, visit


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