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Experts: Root 'Green' Efforts in Business Decisions
 

By Kathy Gurchiek  6/18/2008
 

Reorienting your organization toward greener products and processes goes beyond science.

The actions must be financially viable, employees must be aligned with the organization’s vision of being environmentally responsible, and the organization’s core values must reflect its respect for the environment and guide its decisions.

Those were among the messages of the panel discussion, Transformations: How Big Companies Are Designing Green, during the GreenByDesign conference June 13, 2008, in Alexandria, Va.

An organization must “broaden [its] perspective when looking at the business case” and look across the total lifecycle cost of its product, advised panel member Patricia Calkins, vice president of sustainability for Xerox.

Understanding where the organization’s biggest impacts are and focusing on business opportunities from the product’s lifecycle are an organization’s biggest challenges to a “green” transformation, she said.

For example, Xerox’s paper suppliers around the world must meet a set of stringent requirements that cover all aspects of papermaking, and the Xerox High Yield Business Paper uses fewer chemicals in pulping and bleaching than previously, according to the Xerox web site.

Xerox’s various green initiatives have been recognized by groups such as the National Wildlife Federation and Fortune magazine. Its efforts, Calkins said, are aided by a team-based culture and internal communication that keeps everyone abreast of what is happening across the organization.

Internally, Xerox has taken such steps as placing a sustainability representative on each of its product teams and assembling a four-member, high-level team that is cross-organizational and cross-functional, she said.

Making the green transformation includes helping people in your organization understand the trade-offs involved, Calkins noted.

“It isn’t just science,” she said. It requires being cognizant of competitors, government organizations, such as the Environmental Protection Agency Climate Leaders Program, which Xerox joined in 2003, and the needs and expectations of stakeholders and customers, she pointed out.

The Sustainability Calculator, a new tool Xerox rolled out March 2008, for example, was a response to customers looking for a way to figure out the environmental and financial benefits of their actions, GreenBiz.com reported at the time. GreenBiz.com was a sponsor of the GreenByDesign 2008 conference.

“Once you get people excited that they can have an impact” on making a green transformation in their organization … it just keeps going,” Calkins said, but organizations must keep that excitement aligned with the organization’s vision.

Nike does this, in part, by developing an annual scorecard of 11 categories for research and development that factor in such things as habitat destruction, percentage of water used and waste produced.

The aim is to help its designers make good choices, said panel member Lorrie Vogel, general manager of Considered Products at Nike.

Considered Products uses a design approach “that favors environmentally preferable materials, reduces toxic chemicals and curbs waste,” according to a Fortune magazine report on the Nike Air Jordan XX3 basketball shoe roll-out in January 2008.

Using such a scorecard “starts to influence the things [research and development workers are] making,” Vogel said. “It’s about raising the bar for everyone at the company.”

There are bonus points on the scorecard for innovation, and employees who are early adopters of innovation are rewarded.

“We want new ideas to be adopted faster,” she said.

In addition, rewarding innovation provides “more opportunities for employees to get better at what [they] do” and be recognized for it, said Vogel, who has worked in product design and knows first-hand about the professional competitiveness to come up with better ideas for a product.

At a performance review, for example, an employee can point to specific green-related innovations to a Nike product that he or she made, Vogel said.

Regardless of an organization’s business model, leadership is an important part of sustainability, observed Jean Sweeney, vice president of environmental, health and safety at 3M, who spoke prior to the panel discussion.

At 3M, she said, green considerations “guide decisions we make every day.”

She advised organizations to develop core values that reflect a “respect for the … physical and social environment that we’re in.”

Kathy Gurchiek is associate editor for HR News. She can be reached at kgurchiek@shrm.org.

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