Are your sustainability efforts scalable?

Dr. Jennifer Schmitt

One corporation can make a difference.  Can’t it?

I struggle with this question much like I struggle with the idea that one person can make a difference.  I firmly believe one person or one corporation can make a difference. I have to.  Otherwise, much of what I do, personally and professionally, would be for naught.  When I am pressed on this belief I must acknowledge that it is my assumption that many others are also taking similar actions and thus collectively my actions, or a corporation’s actions, can make a difference.  In essence I have faith that my actions are scaled up by the collective actions of many.

Alas, I am a scientist so my faith leads me to exploration and research.  Fortunately as a research fellow with the NorthStar Initiative for Sustainable Enterprise I have the opportunity to research the scaling up of sustainability.  To date we do not have an example of a particular sustainability action that has been scaled up globally, across sectors and countries.  At NorthStar we have begun exploring the idea of globally scaling up a sustainability action through our research into financing energy efficiency improvements in global supply chains.

We are partnering with a company that is working with upwards of 10,000 factories to identify energy efficiency improvements, aggregate them and link them with large global investors.  We are examining who all is involved in this financing of a “saved kilowatt hour” including the supply chain factories, the retail parent companies, energy service companies, financial institutions, etc.  By scaling up one factory’s energy efficiency improvement project(s) to a portfolio of many factories’ energy efficiency improvements, large scale global investors can finance sustainability and institutionalize a system of global aggregation of sustainability actions.

Our financing a “saved kilowatt hour” project is only in its infancy, but once we have an understanding of what it takes to finance a “saved kilowatt hour” we can expand our research to explore a “saved gallon of water” or an “adverted toxic ingredient”.  We can ask questions such as how to aggregate these sustainability actions?  And whether the global financial world will provide the financing?  This will then give a resounding “YES!” to the question of whether one corporation can make a difference.

In the meantime, I’d love to hear from you: Does your company have an aggregation story of a sustainability action occurring in your supply chain?  Or all your worldwide offices?  Perhaps you know of a global, cross-sector sustainability initiative that we have missed?

About Jennifer Schmitt

Dr. Jennifer Schmitt is a postdoctoral research fellow with the NorthStar Initiative. Her research is broadly focused how sustainability initiatives lead to improvements in environmental and social metrics. You can contact her at

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