Shades of green

Environmental sustainability.

It’s a term that seems to be bandied around a lot lately.

Many companies have it stated as one of their “core values” – but do they really mean it?

Businessman holding crystal globe

It’s easy to display the words on your website, print them on a pretty brochure, and even rattle them off during an induction.

But it’s a whole different kettle of fish to integrate their meaning and intent into your strategic plan.

In other words, to walk the talk.

Academic insight

In the second part of my 2-part interview with Dr David Bubna-Litic, Senior Lecturer in Strategic Management at the University of Technology, Sydney, I posed the following questions.

Again I have recorded his answers for you to review:

PlayDoes the L&D department have an obligation to facilitate the learning of the corporation’s values among its employees?

PlaySo if an insurance company defines environmental sustainability as a core value, should its L&D department organise workshops on green issues?

PlayHow about controversial issues such as climate change and nuclear energy – should the company adopt one political agenda over another?

If you have trouble playing the files, right-click each link and “Save Target As…”.

My take

It’s clear to me that a company that claims a corporate value such as environmental sustainability has an ethical obligation to translate it into action. Values are more than words; they represent behaviour.

Green piggy bankThe irony of pretenders like Enron is that, if the corporation is true to its values, it can reap significant financial rewards.

For example, a manufacturing company that reduces its electricity consumption will no doubt enjoy a corresponding cost saving; a finance company that offers socially responsible investments may attract a new demographic of customer; a multinational that installs a web conferencing system instead of criss-crossing the globe by airliner will no longer need to fund relentless air fares, hotel bills and meal allowances.

The role of the L&D Department

It is also clear to me that the L&D Department has a professional obligation to facilitate the learning of the corporation’s values among its employees.

Since those values provide the context for how the company operates in the marketplace, any ignorance of them is – at best – unprofessional, but probably more accurately, incompetent.

The thin green line

In dealing with politically contentious issues such as climate change, the organisation must be wary of straying into partisanship.

No matter how much we wish it wasn’t so, some of our colleagues just don’t agree with our point of view. So if the corporation were to adopt one political agenda over another, I for one would consider it ethically unacceptable.

I suggest that instead of taking sides, the company errs on the side of caution. For example, it doesn’t need to say things like:

Acme Corporation knows that climate change is real.

That is almost intentionally divisive.

Chess pieces opposing each other

Instead, why not go for:

Acme Corporation is committed to an environmentally sustainable future. While we are unsure as to whether human activity contributes to climate change, we are taking the precaution of reducing our carbon emissions and expanding our portfolio in the renewable energy sector.

That is much more inclusive!

Chess pieces mingling

As the elephant in the room will tell you, there’s no point in disengaging some of your employees.

That would be to the detriment of everyone.

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7 Comments on “Shades of green”

  1. c-sez Says:

    re: more inclusive to say

    > While we are unsure as to whether human activity contributes to climate change, we are taking the precaution…

    I disagree. I’d suggest a mealy-mouthed statement like this would create significant disaffection/ disengagement with a large a segment of your workforce – likely on par with the climate change denying segment you’re trying not to annoy. Take a deep breath and just be honest with your staff about management’s & the company’s values.

  2. Ryan Tracey Says:

    I take your point c-sez, but what if the majority of those managers believe that climate change is bogus, or they are genuinely unsure?

  3. c-sez Says:

    Again, I don’t think they should obfuscate. If I had management who thought climate change was bogus, despite overwhelming scientific evidence and consensus on the issue, I’d want to know, for better or worse.

  4. Ryan Tracey Says:

    I agree. If the company holds a position on a particular issue, as an employee I want to know about it.

    There will be some issues, though, on which opinion will be deeply divided. Some managers may hold one view, while other managers hold another, and then there are the shareholders who of course own the company. In cases where the company doesn’t hold a particular stance, claiming otherwise will surely rub people the wrong way.

    IMHO the company should focus on its true values, such as helping the environment, rather than pushing contentious (personal?) issues like climate change.

    But perhaps climate change is a poor example as I think most people would believe it is indeed a real problem. Politics and religion are probably much better examples!

  5. Maxi Says:

    Acme Corporation knows that climate change is real is a stupid statement. Noone ‘knows’ climate change is real. Its Obama propaganda.. empty words.

  6. Ryan Tracey Says:

    Point taken: Climate change is political.

  7. Ryan Tracey Says:

    Upon reviewing Acme’s hypothetical statement and the above comments, it’s clear to me we should avoid unncessary political connotations and stick to what everyone can agree on. For example:

    “Acme Corporation is committed to a healthy environment and a sustainable future.”

    That should engage all staff, regardless of their views of climate change.


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