What Will Your Role Be? – A Conservation Conference Recap

During last month’s 2018 WHC Conservation Conference, WHC President Margaret O’Gorman ended her opening remarks by asking the audience, What will your role be?

It was an apropos question for this group of almost 500 corporate executives, CSR and EHS professionals, and site managers gathered to further their respective company’s biodiversity, corporate sustainability and community relations goals.

During her annual State of Corporate Conservation address, Margaret celebrated three decades of change within the corporate community as it relates to the environment, and noted that while the corporate actions of the past created the situation of the present, corporate actions today will create the future.

“I think towards a time where the sustainability strategies mainstreamed inside the corporate workplace now mainstream nature outside, where corporate landowners’ contributions to recovery and restoration efforts bring back the color of biodiversity in urban, suburban, rural and wilderness areas and where finally the old arguments and divisions that have kept the private sector and civil society at loggerheads are settled and we’re all operating in a world of mutual respect, mutual benefit and productive conservation efforts.”

The degree of participation and enthusiasm shown by attendees throughout the two-day event was evidence of a willingness and hunger to participate in the environment in a positive manner. While the latest reports from the IPCC and the IPBES make for grim reading, the theme of the Conference was to take heart and create action in the emerging recognition of the importance of nature-based solutions as both mitigation pathways and adaptation strategies for climate, which will also result in co-benefits for people and planet.

Attendees from across industry sectors and corporate functions heard from their peers about innovative efforts happening on corporate lands that led to robust biodiversity outcomes and increased mainstreaming of efforts from ad hoc to strategic. Phillips 66 talked about its project to connect gas stations to the company’s overall biodiversity goal by encouraging native plantings at these unlikely locations; Exelon shared its methodology to create strategic plans for conservation, and a panel of corporate executives from Covia, Ontario Power Generation and Toyota introduced the mining, utility and car company of the future, showing how innovation in both technology and thought was spurring deep change for companies and consumers.

Partner organizations Bat Conservation International, the U.S. Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies and the Pollinator Partnership, among others, provided content to the breakout sessions and presented their work in the exhibit hall beside consultants and government agencies promoting their programs to the attendees.

The most talked about event at the conference was rapper Baba Brinkman and his Rap Guide to Climate Chaos. Performed at the Paris Climate Conference and to popular acclaim off-Broadway, his energetic performance laid out the politics, economics and science of climate change, pulling no punches in its direct message to a very unique audience.

The core of WHC’s Conservation Conference is celebration. Over 20 awards were presented during the conference including three top awards that recognize corporate commitment to biodiversity. This year, DTE Energy received the 2018 Corporate Conservation Leadership Award for the depth and breadth of its commitment to biodiversity. The Employee Engagement Award was presented to Exelon in recognition of the strength and commitment of its employee teams participating in its habitat and conservation education activities. General Motors received the 2018 Gold Program Award for its conservation efforts at the GM Canada CAMI Assembly Plant in Ontario, Canada. These awards were presented during an often raucous but intensely celebratory dinner where Baba Brinkman returned for a wrap-up rap of the Conference happenings.

With 30 years under its belt, this event displayed clearly to WHC that there is an ever-growing audience of corporations across all industry sectors who are eager to make a difference in whatever way possible. They know that successful efforts at the site level will drive change for conservation action across entire organizations, and they know the answer to the question, What will your role be?

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