Monday, July 09, 2007

Ask Questions Carefully but Purposefully

I received an interesting phone call last week while conveniently stuck (quite literally; I was not moving. The car was turned off) on 287 north of New York City. There was an absolute downpour that tracked along the highway conveniently overwhelming the drainage system in a somewhat oddly laid out series of corners. The construction zone could only have made the situation worse, which it did. The photo at right is NOT of what I experienced.

The purpose of the call was to inquire about the questions I had been asking about environmental issues and sustainable business of members of our company's central management team. The division I am part of is a small piece of a much larger multi-national organization, and my assumption, which, as most assumptions are, was incorrect, that there are centralized functions addressing EH&S and environmental issues. In fact, many of these issues are managed individually in the business units. The other reason for the call was to remind me about the chain of command and that I should be following it. Despite the fact that the organization is quite flat, I still need to go up through my immediate manager. That makes sense. If I have any hope of raising sustainable business practices to the global implementation stage, I suppose I should start there.

It's funny how I immediately became a bit defensive about why I was asking these questions. It's as though, despite all my reading and my personal conviction (though it wavers occasionally) about the probnlems associated with business-as-usual, the fact that I am talking about "green" issues is somehow idealistic and outside the realm of business. Also, the distinct impression I received when discussing environmental stuff was that when these issues are raised, their must be something wrong. It's the compliance mentality, which through no fault of management that has survived in this world, is par for the course. In other words, we are doing great things for the environment, we meet all the regulatory standards, we even investigated alternative forms of energy for the facility. That's great, but what about the life cycle of the products we sell?

In all that I have read about the adoption of corporate sustainability initiatives, success depends heavily upon the engagement and cheerleading of the executive suite. I wonder, does the CEO and/or other members of the executive leadership team think about product stewardship, life cycle analysis, CSR, ESG, etc.?

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