What GreenBiz 2023 Tells Us About the Future of Sustainability 

by Erika Chan,

I’ve spent nearly 20 years in sustainability, but this was my first year attending GreenBiz on behalf of U. S. Steel. Founded in 1991, GreenBiz has been a force for coalescing and galvanizing business leaders working on everything from social justice to the circular economy to building a more resilient supply chain. It was an honor to represent U. S. Steel as its head of sustainability. As the only representative from the steel industry, it was a pleasure to give voice to our Best for Allâ strategy, the foundation of which is sustainability. Judging from the conversations I had with other attendees, we not only have an opportunity to help advance sustainability in steel, but also across hard-to-abate industries as a whole.  

We’re at an interesting moment. Despite the prevalence of sustainability as a topic in business, government and daily life, most of the attendees I spoke with were surprised that a steel company had a Chief Sustainability Officer. Or that sustainability was baked into U. S. Steel’s overall strategy. While it’s true that the manufacturing sector has its share of late adopters around sustainability initiatives in a broad sense, it’s also true that steel can—and should—be sustainably made whenever possible. The success of the circular economy depends on all sectors—including manufacturing and hard-to-abate industries—being brought forward.  

One of the hottest topics at the conference was the proposed Securities & Exchange Commission (SEC) rule around climate-related disclosures. There was also a lot of talk around the European Union’s Corporate Sustainability Reporting Directive (CSRD). Without going into the nitty gritty on either, the big picture on both is that companies will need to up their game on both data gathering and reporting on sustainability topics related to their business. At U. S. Steel, we’re preparing for these potential new requirements and advancing our current process around Scope 1 and Scope 2 greenhouse gas emissions to satisfy new standards and regulations. We are also looking to be a resource to some of our small- and medium-sized suppliers for their own efforts.  

Which brings us, of course, to Scope 3 emissions. While we believe it’s crucial to understand what final rules the SEC may impose before we make any reporting commitments, Scope 3 is very much a part of our ongoing sustainability conversations with investors and customers – both current and potential. Customers are weighing their own sustainability goals and thinking through how companies like U. S. Steel can be part of their solution. We found ourselves in good company at GreenBiz on this topic. The dual nature of Scope 3, which touches on both upstream and downstream emissions, presents unique challenges. But this only highlights the importance of U. S. Steel attending conferences such as GreenBiz and connecting with similarly situated companies as we all work to adapt to the rapidly evolving sustainability landscape. 

Setting the regulatory landscape aside, another frequent conversation was around data. We saw a lot of vendors offering digital solutions to overcome obstacles to reporting and disclosures. One of the attendees quipped, “If you’re not best friends with your IT department then you should be.” At U. S. Steel, we’re in the process of finalizing an internal ESG data hub. A central part of our approach to sustainability is to build a robust architecture for gathering, storing and gaining insights from the 250+ values we have to track on greenhouse gas emissions. For a company that’s over 120 years old, this can be a real challenge. But for all the challenges, we also encourage anyone in manufacturing or hard-to-abate industries to make the investment. Reporting demands are only going to grow over time.  

Final thought: For all the concern around climate change and the many challenges associated with it, there was also a lot of hope.  That started with the cross-section of attendees I had the chance to interact with.  As someone who has worked in sustainability for some time, it was heartening to see so many young people at GreenBiz who are ready for the next challenge and the ones after that. I often thought about U. S. Steel’s SteelSUSTAINABILITY Employee Resource Group and how we’re already preparing the next generation of sustainability leaders today.  

As U. S. Steel’s head of sustainability, my job is to support our company-wide efforts to make steel and steelmaking more sustainable. But I’m also here as a point of connection for anyone—young or old—who wants to get creative about how we make all industries and sectors more sustainable. We have a lot to do, and I can’t wait to see what happens next.

About the author

Erika Chan is Head of Sustainability, U. S. Steel

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