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Sustainability Bootcamp

February 22, 2012

As many people know, I am completing an MBA at the Haskayne School of Business.  So when I saw an opportunity to apply to attend an MBA Sustainability Bootcamp, to be held in Calgary over reading week by The Natural Step, I didn’t hesitate to apply and was happy to be accepted.  The first day — today — was intense, but the group was both diverse and brilliant, made up of MBAs from all over Canada.  The guest speakers were also stellar, including Mark Anielski (author of The Economics of Happiness), Bob Willard (author of The Sustainability Advantage), Rob Wesseling, COO of Sovereign General Insurance Company, and Claude Ouimet of InterfaceFLOR.  These guests each addressed two questions in turn.  What I heard them say is the topic of this blog.

What advice would you give to sustainability professionals just starting out:

Rob Wesseling:  Everyone does not need to hold the same beliefs to reach your goals.  Show them how it benefits them.  There are real tangible economic benefits to sustainability.

Mark Anielski:

It’s important to compost your butts(!).

Failure is an important opportunity; it forces you to face fear straight on.  What is the worst that could happen?  Go to the heart of managing real assets; aligning financing with your joy.  Each one of us has our own path. If composting cigarette butts makes you happy, make time to do it.

Claude Ouimet:  Meet people where they are (philosophically) and respect that they are coming from a different background.  Shifting sustainability actions in a company is a challenge; meet their fears, change their way of thinking, and see the possibility of change. Sustainability can’t be just to save money, it must go beyond:  it gives a higher purpose for people to come to work in the morning (NOTE:  Gamers call this Epic Purpose).  Don’t rush into the mechanical; spend more time on the people and ensure you have the team to take you where you want to go.  If not, train them and give them a chance to follow you and what you believe.

HIGHER PURPOSE: At InterfaceFLOR, they don’t make carpet, they make a difference

Bob Willard:  Meet yourself where you are:  find a niche that fits for you.  Build on non-sustainability skills and layer sustainability on top of that.  Get good at your niche.  Stay open to possibilities.  He says, “My life has been one accident after another.  Stay open to possibility”, and then adds, “Enjoy the journey and the whitewater.  Cut yourself some slack”.

What major questions about the future of business are you wrestling with?

Bob:  A model for sustainable business.  How would you know one if you saw one?  Let’s get definitive about characteristics.  We need to push ourselves to find out when have we arrived.  The goal is out there; we need to figure out if it is possible.  Not just you, but your supply chain too.  Aspire to something both do-able and sustainable.

Claude:  Capra (Fritjov Capra) looked at a systems view for communities; if you need something, you have access to diversity of opinion.  Collective benefit is important.  Between now and then there is a challenge to produce a product that promises something more than just functional benefit.  Who are you as an organization?  If you are not able to be part of the new movement of being conscious about society, you are going to be left out.  Build market share through mindshare.  Mindshare comes through the ability of expressing in a very authentic way what you want to become and what you are.  It is more important than the product.

Mark:  Sustainability cannot be achieved until we look at the design of money.  Debt is money.  His vision is to redesign how money is created.  His short-term objective is to work with a specific bank to redefine wealth and to re-imagine the management of wealth on the basis of community assets.  It’s an evolution to love.

Rob:  The big business challenge is “At what point will consumers step back and say, ‘I am going to choose this company over this one because of what they do’”.  It is empowering because it is something all of us can do.  If you don’t like what they do, don’t buy it; it is the single most transformation action you can do.

To the extent that consumers are willing to patronize organizations aligned to their values, this will be the thing that changes business.  It happens one purchase at a time.

This does not require big governance change, just a change in individual actions.

I hope this summary inspires you as much as it did me listening to them!

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