This article is part of the New New Rules of Business.
When COVID-19 lockdowns forced the public and businesses to a standstill, the world saw a temporary respite from pollution, a brief drop in global emissions, and a glimpse at the future we could have if we changed the way we impact our environment. How can we make that future a reality? On June 30, a subset of the Fast Company Impact Council, an invitation-only group of entrepreneurs, business leaders, and innovators across industries, considered that question.
In a roundtable discussion led by Fast Company senior editor Morgan Clendaniel, business leaders discussed the Future of the Planet—and what businesses can do to create better sustainability policies. The session participants were, in alphabetical order: Caroline Brown, managing director at Closed Loop Partners; Audrey Choi, chief marketing officer and chief sustainability officer at Morgan Stanley; Jonathan Neman, CEO and founder of Sweetgreen; Gayle Schueller, VP and chief sustainability officer at 3M; Troy Swope, CEO of Footprint LLC; and Julie Wainwright, founder and CEO of The RealReal. Excerpts of the roundtable have been edited for length and clarity.
Caroline Brown: The trends that we saw going into the pandemic, which were based on express consumer value sets—for more sustainability, for more transparency, for circularity—we’ve actually seen an uptick and acceleration in an interest for companies to acquire and scale these solutions. What we see in certain industries is that the solutions to solve these problems, they’re pretty early stage. They may be living at the pilot level, they may be living in early-stage commercialization, but married to this problem of accountability is also, are there tools out there that can be scaled, so that big companies can take action? I think as we’re seeing people coming out of the pandemic, more