Monday, July 20, 2009

Good for the Planet, Good for Business

In the current Fast Company, there is an interesting interview with Patagonia founder, Yvon Chouinard, regarding the general topic of corporate social responsibility. The paradoxical title, "No Such Thing as Sustainability", focuses on his long-term commitment to environmental issues. As Chouinard states, Patagonia's mission is "to use business to inspire and implement solutions to the environmental crisis" based on three key points: learn the environmental impact of your business; take full responsibility for your product from birth to rebirth; and implement a self-taxing approach for your business-related pollution, similar to One Percent for the Planet, which was co-founded by Patagonia. As to the success of "self-taxing", over 1000 businesses have joined One Percent for the Planet since its inception in 2001, and six of the largest firms to join are having their best year ever. The concept is good for the planet and good for business.

Related to the Chouinard interview is a recent article in Environmental Leader by Kathee Rebernak called "Where Sustainability Lives: A Path to Integration and Innovation". In the article she cites a research study of Fortune 500 companies that looked at the function of sustainability within a firm, how the position is titled and what channels are set up for reporting to the CEO and board. They found a high correlation between well defined firm positions and board reporting structures, and awards or recognition for sustainability performance. Recent research published in the Harvard Business Review also correlates a sustainability structure which is integrated across the firm with the innovation it fosters and the resultant sustainability success. The Director of Sustainability at Symantec observed that, when the CEO drives the sustainability/corporate responsibility agenda, the process is accelerated. Kathee's summary quote caps the discussion well. "For the sustainability effort to drive business value, the CEO must be in the driver's seat".

This corporate sustainability research aligns and reinforces the examples of charismatic sustainability leaders like Patagonia's Yvon Chouinard and Interface Carpet's Ray Anderson. They have proven that personal commitment at the highest corporate levels will lead to more responsible and economically successful business practices.

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