Emily Chan, Executive Vice President, US West Lead, Social Impact & Sustainability; Paige Graham, Senior Vice President, Social Impact & Sustainability; Katie Armitstead, Senior Vice President, ESG Advisory, Edelman Smithfield.

Emily Chan, as Executive Vice President and U.S. West Lead of Social Impact & Sustainability, specializes in corporate strategy, aligning communication strategies with growth goals, and leading advisory services to research, create, and execute impactful programs that drive business results.

Paige Graham, a Senior Vice President of Social Impact & Sustainability, brings her expertise in the food, beverage, and agriculture sectors to help companies tell their stories, particularly focusing on the future of food systems and the intersection of food production and environmental sustainability.

Katie Armistead, Senior Vice President of Edelman Smithfield’s ESG Advisory, leads Edelman’s ESG Reporting Center of Excellence, assisting clients in building, executing, and communicating ESG disclosures that mitigate risks and earn the trust of key stakeholders.

Each winter, GreenBiz hosts its annual conference, creating a dedicated space to explore the latest trends, discuss challenges, and uncover opportunities for the future of green business and society.

Attendance ranges from multinational corporations and startups, NGOs and the public sector, to youth activists and graduate students. And this makes sense given it doesn’t matter if you “work in sustainability” or not; environmental and societal challenges impact us all. This realization is highlighted in the 2024 Edelman Trust Barometer which found concerns over societal issues, including climate change, continue to rise.

From technological advancements to transformative strategies for sustainable development, the conference showcased the collective efforts and commitment of businesses, policymakers, and activists towards building a more equitable and environmentally conscious world. There are relevant takeaways for all businesses – regardless of sector, scale, or offering, including:

  • Communicating sustainability is a priority, especially when navigating pivots and challenges. With many corporate commitments due in 2025 and a continued lack of understanding around complex sustainability topics, attendees were eager to discuss best practices at a session, Shift Happens. Participants discussed closing the “say-do gap” to prevent greenwashing and the importance of owning mistakes in proactive and transparent communications during a pivot.
  • Carbon markets are top of mind for many, but companies are still looking for guidance as the industry matures. The number of vendors and panels on carbon credits was at an all-time high at this year’s event. Many companies, especially those in hard-to-abate sectors, are trying to understand how carbon credits fit into their decarbonization goals. While helpful buyer tools such as VCMI’s Claims Code of Practice have emerged in the last year, companies are still looking for more guidance on when to purchase credits, and which credits will be most additive, trusted, and accepted in the long term. Key to the approach for any engagement with credits is focusing first and foremost on reducing and eliminating emissions in your own value chain before considering purchase of credits.
  • While not a net new concept, collaboration is crucial to driving positive impact. And companies are taking a range of approaches. We know that to address systemic challenges like the impacts of climate change or racial equality, we need systems-focused solutions. These can’t be found within the four walls of any one organization. Leaders underscored the importance of collaboration to make tangible progress against environmental and societal challenges. While there is no one “right” way to collaborate, many are looking outside their supply chain or sector, e.g., a collaboration between a food and beverage company and a tech corporation to use AI to address water loss in the Colorado River Basin, one of the most stressed water resources in the U.S. Others are navigating pre-competitive collaboration, sharing technologies, innovation, and insights to benefit an entire sector. As every company learns and adapts, it’s a reminder that the usual partnership or potentially harder conversation can be where sustainable change happens.
  • Climate quitting: Emerging talent are voting with their feet. By 2025, GenZ will make up 27% of the workforce. According to Wawa Gatheru, founder of Black Girl Environmentalist, they aren’t shy about the fact they are climate quitting – meaning they are leaving a job based on an employer’s impact on the environment and seeking out roles at companies they see addressing environmental and social issues (given the interconnectedness between the two). Integrating equity, DEI, and sustainability into business strategy is no longer a nice-to-have. At least, it’s not if you want to both attract and maintain emerging talent.
  • As the reporting regulatory landscape heats up, confusion abounds on how best to comply. Corporate secretaries, sustainability communicators, and reporting leads have all been left to tackle the evolving ESG reporting regulations, with a notable emphasis on the Corporate Sustainability Reporting Directive (CSRD) alongside California's SB 253 and SB 261. Amidst these regulatory developments, companies are finding themselves navigating a maze of requirements, governing body hold ups, new processes for data collection and scrutinizing legal teams. The 2024 reporting season is well underway, but most companies are eagerly awaiting the publication of their peers’ reports to see just how they are stacking up (and who is well equipped to comply). The bottom line: get started now with scope 3 GHG inventories and CSRD gap assessments regardless of if these new regulations apply.
  • Biodiversity takes center stage. Shifting the focus of the private sector toward biodiversity is critical as we acknowledge its interconnectedness with climate change and its broader impact on ecosystems and human well-being. While many companies have primarily focused on climate change mitigation efforts in the past, recognizing the importance and measurement of biodiversity is essential for sustainable development and long-term business success. Integrating nature-related considerations into business strategies and operations is imperative for mitigating risks, unlocking new opportunities and ensuring long-term value creation. Attendees had big questions and few answers on how best to implement biodiversity-related strategies, and especially on how to measure performance given the complexities of such a topic. However, forums to connect with likeminded practitioners and voluntary standards from The Taskforce on Nature-related Financial Disclosures (TNFD) provide a starting point.

Every year when GreenBiz wraps, conversations are not simply “see you next year,” they are focused on action, from scheduling near-term meetings to brainstorming partnership opportunities, participants leave empowered to make further connections across networks to uncover innovative approaches to a challenge. We look forward to continuing to do our part to help catalyze this positive impact.

To continue the dialogue, explore collaboration opportunities, or seek guidance on navigating the evolving landscape of environmental, social, and governance (ESG) initiatives, reach out to our team here.