A frog sitting in a pan of water that is slowly being heated will sit there till it is boiled to death but a frog put into a pan of boiling water jumps out. In regard to climate change, we are like the frog sitting in water getting increasingly hot but refusing to jump out. As one expert says, humans are the only species that foul the nest (the earth) we live in.
Instead of discussing the scientific data on environmental change, I want take the approach that going green is not only good business, it is the only way a good business will operate. In addition to ensuring future generations’ physical assets, going green makes good business sense through positive impact on employee engagement. If people feel they are making meaningful contributions to their jobs, and society as a whole, they are more likely to be engaged and consequently more productive. “In my fifty-two years in business, I've never seen an issue galvanize people in a company like sustainability." Ray Anderson, the founder of Interface Inc, the largest modular carpet manufacturer in the world,
While local organisations often drive sustainability initiatives via their HSE professionals, CEOs of major global companies like Lee Scott, from Walmart are directly championing sustainability, “Being a good steward of the environment and being profitable are not mutually exclusive. They are one and the same.”
The vision of global leaders is crystallising as a mission of doing not less but no harm to the environment. Industrial designer and author of Cradle to Cradle, William McDonough, who works with major companies like Nike and Ford, says that any intelligent leader has to aim for zero impact on the environment. Just reducing the amount of bad we do is not enough.
There are a growing number of businesses like Interface, who are doing well by doing green: Interface produces carpets with recycled, chemically benign materials and aims to go off the grid by 2020. Google has solar panels for its offices. Car companies are designing cars that run on cleaner energy and with engine oils and fabrics that are organic and biodegradable. Local governments are building Green star offices are being built in Perth and Melbourne. WSPLincolne Scott, an environmental building services company has made its Asia Pacific operations climate neutral and calculates carbon emissions for its employee’s home life. Also employees super is invested in a green superannuation fund.
Integral Development has conducted surveys of over 40 companies’ sustainability practices and has run programs to improve these practices. We recently did this with Workpower (awarded the WA Business News’ Best Employer 2009 in the medium sized category) and staff generated over 30 ways to reduce the company’s environmental impact. The workshops also generated a great deal of enthusiasm about working in a green company as well as saving money. Energy efficient lighting, purchasing green supplies and equipment, recycling, worm farms, different product packaging, energy and water audits, and adding sustainability into the values, were just a few of the initiatives being implemented by their ‘Green Team’.
When we look at two major crisis that are facing us in modern times – Global Financial Crisis and Climate Change - the difference in our reaction globally has been extraordinary. On one hand, the financial crisis resulted in significant and swift actions from government and businesses everywhere. We acted as a community of nations to avoid a major worldwide economic catastrophe. Climate change, on the other hand, still requires a substantial mind shift, commitment and significant actions from all national and state governments, businesses, employees and citizens to reduce our collective impact to zero.
People have extraordinary creativity and initiative when faced with a challenge that leads to worthwhile outcomes. Finding ways to work and live in harmony on our home planet is one of the most exciting and worthwhile endeavours we collectively face. Just as looking after the safety and right to equal opportunity of employment for people at work were once novel ideas, the idea of doing green at work will soon become the only way to do well at work.
First published in WA Business News. 30th October 2009. Page 20.
By Dr. Ron Cacioppe
Ron Cacioppe is Adjunct Professor at Curtin University’s Australian Sustainable Development Institute, and Managing Director of Integral Development, one of Perth’s most unique and experienced leadership and management consultancies. Integral Development is a finalist in the Small Business Leading by Example Category of the Department of Environment and Conservation 2009 Western Australian Environment Awards.