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People, profits and sustainability

People, Profits and Sustainability
“Organizing for Sustainability” was held at Mattel’s Leadership Development Center in El Segundo.

The “triple bottom line” was on the minds of managers and executives who focused on sustainability issues at a conference held in mid-February by the Center for Effective Organizations based at the USC Marshall School of Business.

“Although some companies continue to use the word sustainability to mean green, many adhere to the notion of the triple bottom line – that our businesses, economies, communities and Earth can only be sustainably effective if we worry about outcomes for people, the planet and profit,” said Susan Mohrman, senior research scientist at the center.

Mohrman organized the conference program with the center’s senior research scientist, Chris Worley, and program manager, Arienne McCracken.

“Organizing for Sustainability” was held at Mattel’s Leadership Development Center in El Segundo. The invitation-only conference drew participants from China, Canada and Italy, as well as global multinationals such as Nokia and smaller organizations such as the Ohio City Farm in Cleveland.

Representatives from companies such as Microsoft, Best Buy, PwC and Toyota also were present, sharing knowledge gleaned from their attempts to address sustainability within their own companies.

Among the ideas that resonated most with Jennifer Miller DuBuisson, senior global sustainability engineer at Mattel, was “learning the importance of asking the right questions as opposed to coming to the table with what you think is the best answer.”

“Organizing for Sustainability” addressed several themes, including:

• understanding the importance of transparency. PwC’s Shannon Schuyler reported on the rapid increase in the number of companies that are changing their business practices to report non-financial outcomes.

• avoiding “greenwashing.” Any attempts to address environmental issues need to be substantive, not merely executed for public relations reasons. In fact, according to Worley, there was “a certain reticence among the companies to discuss their sustainability initiatives or accomplishments for fear of being seen as taking advantage of the current interest in sustainability.”

• getting employees on board. “Mattel, for example, has built a culture where employees in factories all over the world see it as their responsibility to find ways to decrease energy and materials use and feel empowered to initiate innovations,” Mohrman said. Employee engagement also is essential to building a company’s philanthropic endeavors, which increasingly are being managed to achieve lasting positive impact on social and environmental issues.

• creating strong collaborations within and across organizations. Possible partners can include other companies, government agencies and universities.

“The Port of Los Angeles, for example, has brought together all these stakeholders to substantially decrease the negative impact of carbon emissions on the surrounding community and to explore ways to decrease the carbon footprint of the shipping industry,” Mohrman said.

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