Everybody is going green

The environment has emerged on the global business agenda and while the recession certainly has taken the headlines for a while the green issue is still hot, because consumers continue to find it important.

by Palle Ellemann Knudsen

If you don’t know how to “dress up” your company image, you can always become environmentally friendly and score a few cheap points. When you look at corporate websites today you will see a lot more photos with “green” references and the information on companies’ environmental activities have been pushed forward to the homepage. For most companies the environmental activities are considered a CSR-investment, where the main return on the investment is the potential positive impact on the reputation. These companies typically support a couple of environmental organizations with donations, buy carbon offsets or perhaps launch an internal campaign to raise the awareness of saving energy and reduce waste.

A company like SAS Institute has taken a totally different approach. It has established the SAS Executive Sustainability Council to work with all sustainability issues including the environmental management. The council is represented by a number of executives including the company’s two owners, Jim Goodnight and John Sall. Sustainability and the environmental management are considered an integrated part of the business. The council has taken a holistic view on what SAS can do for the environment and how the environment can improve the business. According to SAS, the commitment to environment is not just goodwill, it also makes good business sense. Investments in environmentally responsible practices and technologies deliver returns for SAS in three significant ways:

• Reducing costs through intelligently managed resource consumption.

• Growing new markets through inventive, eco-friendly business practices.

• Responsibly meeting the expectations of customers, government and the public.

SAS has implemented a huge variety of environmentally friendly practices and initiatives that have impacted and involved employees, customers, the local community, and business partners. The company has even established a solar farm at the headquarter premises that can produce a total annual of 3.7 million kilowatt-hours. Instead of having machines cutting the grass SAS has sheep eating the grass around the solar panels.

Other initiatives focus on reducing the use of energy and water. Campaigns are constantly organized to raise the awareness of what people can do to protect the environment at SAS as well as in their private life. The campaigns also encourage people to always look for opportunities to improve the environmental management.

Involving employees, thinking creatively, and taking a holistic view are also keywords for environmental management at Telefónica in Colombia. The two Telefónica companies in Colombia, Telecom and Movistar, have together trained 430 employees to be internal environmental inspectors that review all Telefónica locations in Colombia and make suggestions for how to reduce energy consumption and unnecessary waste. The environmental inspector program has been followed up by campaigns and an environmental week, where Telefónica employees throughout the country have carried out environmental projects in collaboration with local organizations.

The Italian Banca Intesa Sanpaolo decided to analyze the mobility patterns of its 24,000 employees. It turned out that the employees travelled 113 million kilometers per year in car, train or airplane (work and personal). The bank launched a campaign to encourage people to use the train instead of flying and use more video conference tools for meetings. Additionally, the company has organized a bike- and car-sharing program and even organized a bus service to connect key public transport hubs with the branches of the bank. In the past year, the bank has managed to reduce the CO2 emission of transport by nine and a half percent. The environmental perspective is just one of many ways the Telefónica employees can become involved in sustainability activities. The company has also designed a process where groups of employees can be challenged with a real problem in the local community – e.g. an environmental issue – and they are given a certain deadline to come up with a solution. For all these activities the employees are encouraged to either get a full diploma in Social Responsibility and Corporate Voluntary Work (an education developed in collaboration with a Colombian university) or take a range of individual courses on themes like innovation, teamwork and communication. In this way the sustainability activities also become personal development that will benefit the employees in situations where they are performing their normal job. The way the sustainability activities at both SAS and Telefónica are designed has a variety of positive effects on corporate culture and the employee performance:
• The involvement of employees in the projects raises employee motivation and builds team spirit across the organization.
• People are trained in thinking holistically and out-of-the-box and gain experiences collaborating with external partners, such as environmental organizations and the local community.
• When the sustainability issues become an integrated part of business, employees (and customers) can connect on a deeper level with the company – it is more than just a job!

It is not a coincidence that SAS Institute, Telefónica Telecom and Movistar are all recognized best workplaces in the US and Colombia and, by the way, very successful businesses. The positive spill-over effects from taking a holistic and integrated approach to sustainability and business are making a difference in today’s competitive marketplace.

The Act

Early in the morning on the first of May 1982 we began to plant a two-acre wheat field in lower Manhattan, two blocks from Wall Street and the World Trade Center, facing the Statue of Liberty.The planting consisted of digging 285 furrows by hand, clearing off rocks and garbage, then placing the seed by hand and covering the furrows with soil. We maintained the field for four months, set up an irrigation system, weeded, cleared out wheat smut. We harvested the crop on August 16 on a hot, muggy Sunday. The air was stifling and the city stood still.

The Philosophy
Manhattan is the richest, most professional, most congested, and without a doubt, most fascinating island in the world. To attempt to plant, sustain, and harvest two acres of wheat here, wasting valuable real estate, obstructing the machinery by going against the system, was an effrontery that made it the powerful paradox I had sought for the calling to account. Wheat field was a symbol, a universal concept. It represented food, energy, commerce, world trade, economics. It referred to mismanagement, waste, world hunger, and ecological concerns. The idea of a wheat field is quite simple: introduce a leisurely wheat field into an island of achievement-craze, culture, and decadence. Confront a highly efficient, rich complex where time is money and money rules. Pit the congestion of the city against open fields and unspoiled farmlands. The peaceful and content against the achiever. Culture versus grass roots.

[W     intesasanpaolo.com    movistar.com.co    palleellemann.com    sas.com    telefonica.co]

Published in the hard-copy of Work Style Magazine, Spring 2011