Last week I had the benefit of spending two and a half days with roughly 150 other “green” marketers, sustainability officers and other champions of our environmental movement. The event, called Good and Green, was organized by the Discovery Channel’s Planet Green and countless other agencies and service providers in the new green marketing space. Our missions may be different; yet many of us (as evidenced in questions and conversation) felt a strong pull to a common place: a position of change. The themes were similar to events I have attended over the past 12 months – the growing consumer base green purchasers, need for an ROI focused environmental strategy, and authenticity in messaging – but something was more critical and more dire. And perhaps we can attribute this to feeling a bit like Sisyphus (rolling our rocks up the hill and losing ground), particularly given the recent and severe economic downturn in our country.
As representatives from The Coca Cola Company (April Crow, Sustainable Packaging Manager) and the Ocean Conservancy (Vikki Spruill, President and CEO) were discussing their ongoing joint venture to clean up the waste of our treasured oceans and waterways (much of which Coca Cola recognizes to come from their product packaging which ends up downstream), I realized that ultimately we must have the support and buy in of our chiefs, our executives, our chairmen or our boards. Someone at the top must simply “get it.” We can quote statistics of other corporations who have seen increased return on investment and we can sing the praises of the Good to Great companies but only to realize that even honor does not protect you (as is the case of Circuit City and Fannie Mae). We can create revenue models, financial ROI driven strategies and attempt to prove that doing right and creating programs that honor our employees, customers, communities, and mother earth will ultimately make us a fiscally stronger and more beloved corporation whose products and services will be purchased at higher rates. But, we ‘really’ know that even with all the financial modeling and quoted statistics, we still need that leader who gets it and takes the risk – the leap of faith. The leader who understands that the worse thing a corporation could do over the next predicted 18-24 months of financial chaos is to slow down or eliminate that company’s commitment to society and the environment.
Many of you read my previous blog entry on the shift from shareholder centric to stakeholder centric corporate models. This shift only occurs when our leaders are visionaries. Investment does not always have to mean financial. It means creating an environment within the corporation where experimentation and risk are embraced; where people bring their used electronics into the office for recycling, where volunteer days are not only encouraged but created by the company. Where commute alternatives, flexible work hours and reimbursement of public transportation is a small but significant showing of a corporation who understands that our lives are vital to the success of the company and that WE as employees and THEY as our customers are the life blood of the almighty profits. The holy grail called market share.
During my week at Good and Green, I met so many people who are investing their vocations and avocations on making a change in this world and understanding that their role within their respective companies is the best and most signification place for them to make this change. We are all living in a little bit of fear that budgets don’t dry up for our missions and that our jobs are sacrificed out of decisions made under the old fearful paradigm of shareholder first. More than ever, we must place our trust in our leaders, but we must also understand the role each of us plays in carrying that message to the CEOs. As Michelle Moore of the USGBC said to us during her presentation, “in Revolutions, people get hurt, not physically, but in other ways.” What Michelle meant I believe is that it is never safe and easy on the front line. Warriors for change never have it easy. If it was, we would already be there. It comes through hard work and determination. Stay the course, my fellow revolutionaries.