Published November 7, 2016
One leads a company shifting its long-term focus toward a world where autonomous vehicles ease gridlock in major cities across the globe. Another is leading a company committed to being at the forefront of trends in hospitality and live sporting events. And the third heads an organization that’s constantly finding creative ways to leverage its resources to protect the environment.
All three of these visionaries shared the stage in the Katharine Cornell Theater on Wednesday for a discussion of how to move toward a regenerative society. The discussion was part of the UB RENEW Institute’s Distinguished Lecture Series.
The panelists were Bill Ford, executive chairman of Ford Motor Co.; Jerry Jacobs Jr., co-CEO of Delaware North; and Mark Tercek, president and CEO of The Nature Conservancy. Each talked about how his respective organization is working to create a more prosperous future focused on sustainability.
“These national leaders come from very different fields. They represent the kinds of diverse perspectives that need to come together to achieve a regenerative society,” said Provost Charles F. Zukoski, who noted that in a similar way, the RENEW Institute brings together researchers from a range of disciplines to address pressing environmental issues the world is facing. “RENEW’s overarching goal is to advance energy, water and environmental sustainability through the foundation of a regenerative economy,” Zukoski said.
Here are highlights from Wednesday’s discussion.
Ford Executive Chairman Bill Ford admits it seems counterintuitive for an automobile company to invest in a future that’s less reliant on putting more vehicles on the road. But that’s the long-term vision he has laid out for the company his great-grandfather started.
“The goal really has to be a sustainable industry that enables mobility around the world and makes people’s lives better,” he said. “To me, this is the most exciting time in our industry. I can’t wait to get up every morning and get going. It’s really fun — kind of scary — but also really fun.”
In the short term, Ford acknowledged, there remains a need to build cars and trucks. But cities across the globe have reached a saturation point of vehicles and that requires a new model of transportation.
Enter autonomous vehicles.
“Think of a world where you don’t have to own a vehicle but it shows up anytime you want, wherever you want, where there isn’t any more drunk driving, where the elderly don’t have to give up their driver’s license, where people who have physical challenges can go wherever they want, whenever they want. That’s the world that we are aiming to create,” Ford said.
He also talked about an on-demand, ride-sharing program called Dynamic Shuttle that’s being piloted in San Francisco. The routes are crowdsourced based on rider demand. The program will be rolled out to other cities.
Ford Motor Co. also is working with cities around the world to find mobility solutions that will help improve quality of life in those cities. The city-as-customer idea is another new model for the company, Ford said.
“That’s not something we’ve done before and it’s a new muscle we’re starting to develop,” he said. “If you imagine a city where people and health care and food can move freely around that city, to me that will be a great thing. Our goal is to help make that happen and to do it in a way that’s sustainable.”
Delaware North is a century-old hospitality and entertainment company. While it has a lot of history, the company can’t rest on its laurels, co-CEO Jerry Jacobs Jr. said in explaining the company’s focus on the future.
A few years ago, he attended a conference in which futurists spoke about emerging trends. When he returned to the company’s headquarters, he gushed to his father, Jeremy M. Jacobs, the company’s chairman, about how enlightening the conference was.
“He said that’s great, but what does it mean for Delaware North?” the younger Jacobs recalled. It led to the creation of an innovative report called the Future of Sports. This year marks the second year for the report, which asks a group of futurists to offer bold predictions for the next 25 years of the sports industry in an effort to identify new challenges and opportunities.
Among its businesses, Delaware North operates concessions in stadiums around the world, and the company, Jerry Jacobs Jr. said, needs to be at the forefront of what fans crave.
“We’re trying to think about what’s happening in our industries, in our businesses and in our communities that’s going to really change our future. How do we prepare for that and can we play a role in making it better?” he said.
Delaware North also serves guests in a number of parks and resorts, which made it easy for the company to champion sustainability efforts, like encouraging guests to take shorter showers. “It’s something that we take to heart and that we’re passionate about,” Jacobs said.
During his remarks, he noted the move toward a regenerative society has major implications for Delaware North. “It’s creating opportunities and it’s creating threats. We have whole industries that could evaporate and you have whole new industries that are emerging.”
The Nature Conservancy’s roots go back to an environmental campaign around the Mianus River Gorge near the New York-Connecticut border more than six decades ago. Since then, the organization has expanded to more than 70 countries and diversified to become what it is today, president and CEO Mark Tercek said.
Tercek talked about several innovative ways The Nature Conservancy has fulfilled its conservation mission.
About a year and a half ago, The Nature Conservancy purchased more than 300,000 acres of private forest land in Montana and Washington from the Plum Creek timber company. If the organization hadn’t intervened, the land would have been developed and the ecosystems destroyed, Tercek said.
The cost — $150 million — was steep, even for a large global non-profit, so the organization devised a creative solution: leverage impact capital. The Nature Conservancy raised 90 percent of the purchase price from institutional donors whose missions aligned with the organization’s. “We did a leveraged buyout for nature. Not everybody likes when I describe it that way, but it’s a pretty smart way, I think, of harnessing capital from stretch philanthropy to get more done,” he said.
In 2011, The Nature Conservancy partnered with Dow Chemical to encourage the company to invest in green instead of gray infrastructure. The partnership garnered criticism, with people asking why TNC would work with a chemical company that has such a large environmental footprint.
“And of course the answer was, that’s exactly why we want to work with a company like that. We helped them discover a better way to do business,” Tercek said.