Platt Perspective on Business and Technology

Building a business from a Green foundation – cultivating the Green aware employee

Posted in social networking and business, strategy and planning by Timothy Platt on September 4, 2010

Just over a week ago I posted a piece: Building a Business from a Green Foundation – avoiding the Green gimmick trap in which I argued the case for developing a Green and sustainability business infrastructure as a source of competitive advantage. At the end of that posting I noted that I would add a follow-up on developing Green awareness in your employees. When I wrote that I was not thinking in terms of household recycling or encouraging employees to buy and use environmentally friendly laundry detergent or drive more energy efficient cars, as important as these practices can be. My focus was on the workplace and on developing teams that proactively strive to keep the business effective by identifying and limiting avoidable sources of waste and inefficiency. And my focus was on instilling an awareness of the value added potential of Green and sustainability in products and services offered in creating a unique value proposition that the marketplace will seek out to buy. So this posting is a direct continuation of my earlier infrastructure-oriented posting as cited above and it is about implementing that in day to day practice.

• What do your employees – the members of your team do? What are their tasks and goals and their priorities in that, that would go into their job descriptions if you were to codify in writing precisely how they contribute to your business?
• What are the business processes that they carry out and support in doing this?
• What are the strategic goals and priorities that these processes support and advance, or that they are at least intended to support and advance?
• Where are the connections and efficiencies, and where are the disconnects and inefficiencies? Couching the second half of that question slightly differently, what are the sources of waste in your systems and processes, and in their execution?

Going Green and sustainable in a business as more than gimmick has to be an overarching, ongoing process in and of itself, and a constant striving for energy and resource efficiency. And hands-on that can only come out of what the people who perform all of those tasks actually do, and in how they monitor the effectiveness of their efforts.

To take this out of the abstract I want to consider a specific example – paper and printed documents.

• Do you have a policy for recycling paper in place as a matter of general principle?
• Do you as a matter of policy execution have one paper recycling bin hidden away somewhere in the mailroom where it will not be found and used except in capturing a small percentage of your paper products waste, or do you strategically locate bins where people would use them but without tripping over them?
• Now assume your business generates paper-based hard copy documents that contain customer personal information that you need to safeguard. Do you have one set of waste paper receptacles that all paper waste goes into? If so, do you shred everything whether that is needed or even prudent or not? Do you simply ignore the fact that some of this waste paper has customer personal information and probably other types of confidential information and send it all out of your offices intact and readable?
• Now assume you have two sets of waste paper receptacles – one for general waste paper and a second set that may be separately located that is strictly for documents that contain confidential information and that needs to be shredded. Where do you locate them, so as to limit the ease that the curious dig in to see what they could find, while making it easy for employees to get the right waste papers into each of them?
• What are your processes and procedures and your schedules for emptying, and if necessary shredding the contents of these cans?
• What are your procedures for handling peak waste disposal periods, where for example periodic auditing or other events might generate unusually high levels of waste paper that holds confidential information requiring shredding?

I could continue this with further details but the six bullet points I have added should be enough to illustrate some points. First, even a seemingly simple and straightforward decision to recycle paper waste generates a complex decision tree of processes when carried out in practice and with an awareness of business needs. Second, a big part of this has to come from more centralized and strategic planning. Third, even there, the details have to mesh with the needs of individual employees who are hurried and focused on tasks at hand, and who will not, for example, walk down the hall and take a flight of stairs to dispose of those old report copies they no longer need. A big part of this as a matter of practical implementation has to come from the individual employees diffused throughout the organization and the decisions they make on the fly.

• Good Green and sustainability practices have to be the easier alternative if they are to be consistently followed in practice.
• At the same time, good Green and sustainability practices should be instilled into the corporate culture and be a part of basic employee performance best practices. Green and sustainability should be an attitude and an approach that employees think in terms of as a conscious source of positive value.

And this brings me to a crucially important point. The problems and disconnects between Green and sustainable intent with its intended efficiencies, and day to day practices will not, for the most part, show up in the executive offices or board room. They will show up throughout the business where employees perform all of those tasks and make all of those on the spot decisions that make the business run. So Green and sustainability in practice has to mean developing a culture where employees by default look for ways to be Green and sustainable.

To go back to my bullet pointed paper waste decision tree example, your employees from throughout your table of organization are the people who can really know where those general and confidential paper waste recycling bins need to be located because they are the ones who will or will not use them and they are the ones who will know where they should be placed if effective use is to be the default. So Green and sustainability may in part come from the top and go down, but implementation and feedback necessary for creating effective overall policy has to come from the bottom and go up. And that is all about cultivating the Green employee.

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