Fast Company

An Interview with a Corporate Green Hero

In my last blog entry, I wrote about the 2009 Newsweek Green Corporate Rankings. Soon after this issue was published, I had the good fortune of spending some time with HP's Director of Environmental Sustainability, Bonnie Nixon, on a recent trip to Northern California. After seeing HP on the "Newsweek" list at number one, I was very interested to learn about the woman behind its corporate shift. What was confirmed to me is that behind every major corporate transformation story is a truly heroic man or woman. While I am sure HP has a team of hundreds who have contributed strongly to this position as number one on the "Newsweek" list, I was certain after spending more time with Nixon that she was an integral part of it.

According to "Newsweek," HP leads the pack because of its "strong programs to reduce GHG emissions. The first major IT company to report GHG emissions associated with its supply chain." As more companies review the impact of GHG across their entire supply chains and learn how to make significant reductions, we can expect companies such as HP to serve as a road map to how to best transition their processes to lower emissions. What makes Nixon's story so interesting is that not only was she responsible for HP's transformation, but she has had an enormously positive influence on many other industry sectors as an active participant in multiple cross-sector consortiums. When she was given the reigns at HP for supply chain social and environmental sustainability, she deeply analyzed the practices of companies such as Nike, Levi Strauss, Gap, Disney, McDonalds, Tylenol, Nestles and Exxon.

She was able to define their sustainability stories and also acquire a deeper understanding of what was required of companies who had to manage stakeholders' expectations during difficult times. To avoid HP falling down the same path, Nixon leaned on her previous professional experiences to guide her through her current challenges. While HP was not in a crisis mode, Nixon had the foresight to see that HP could face a crisis regarding the GHG impact, toxic materials in products or global manufacturing practices if it did not prepare to address these issues.

Bonnie's experiences in environmental work run deeper than her time with major corporations. During our meeting Bonnie shared that during her collegiate years in Pennsylvania she experienced the 3 Mile Island event of 1979. This incident marked her significantly and she spent the next 20 years of her career fighting social and environmental injustices - first for the Boston Harbor Clean Up and then by creating her own environmental mediation, planning and communication firm in California. Along with her partner, she was instrumental in tackling major issues in transportation, utilities, hazardous waste and the protection of California's water systems. She was recently asked to represent the Institute of Business and Human Rights as their lead for Global Water Justice. This experience with large public sector environmental projects allowed her to better understand the impact of all forms of energy - hydro, natural gas, oil, nuclear and transportation - knowledge that would later help her drive HP's macro understanding of its GHG emissions impact.

"Fast Company" has always been my favorite business magazine as it highlights innovations in corporate design, leadership and practice. I can't imagine a better innovation than bringing a person with Bonnie's experiences to the table to help mediate and develop policy for vendor relations which address both social and environmental issues globally. Her work style and dedication have led to her trusted relationships with NGOs, vendors, customers and other stakeholders who could have blocked HP's leadership in environmental and social justice. Early on she understood that an adversarial approach to problem solving just simply did not work. Bonnie's work has directly led to a standard code of conduct and implementation measures--developed during her time at HP--for the entire electronics industry. Companies, such as Apple, IBM, Dell, Xerox, Sony and Phillips now all use this set of guiding principals and assurance system. She understands that her role is bigger than just HP or even her industry. Her dedication is helping to change the way business is conducted on our planet and will have a long-lasting effect on global impact.

Bonnie also understands that if she ran her division with a shareholder-centric model alone, the company would not have made many of the decisions which ultimately led to its current leadership style. It was only through her understanding of all stakeholders in the vendor and supply chain relationships that HP was able to advance better conditions for both the environment and the individuals making the majority of electronic products we Americans use in our homes and businesses.

So what was the HP GHG emission reduction? Over 40 percent. For this reason, it is no surprise to learn that HP leads the Green Corporate List in 2009 and will most likely maintain that position when benchmarked against other Fortune 500 companies. With all that has occurred in our country over the last 12 months, it is easy for many to find fault with big businesses role in economic, social and environmental issues. For that reason, it is always reassuring to find a company like HP who has made conscious capitalism a part of their mission and found a leader like Bonnie Nixon to drive change.

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