Creating Value Through Sustainability

April 20, 2010 at 10:06 pm | In business, green, innovation | 1 Comment

“You measure what matters, and what gets measured, gets done.”

That’s how Eric Hespenheide put it at this afternoon’s MIT Enterprise Forum event, live-streamed at UVic. …And I have to admit I felt a deep admiration for – perhaps jealousy of? – numbers crunchers who can make this real. Me? I’d probably get too absorbed by the numbers font on the measuring tape, and whether it was cloth or plastic… 😉


Here’s what it was: an MIT Enterprise Forum broadcast, Creating Value Through Sustainability, hosted by the Atlanta chapter and streamed to various campuses, including the University of Victoria, courtesy of UVic’s Innovation and Development Corporation in partnership with iGEM Victoria, advertised on LinkedIn, …but very sparsely attended by our local innovators.

On hand in Atlanta: Matt Kistler (Senior VP, Sustainability, at Walmart Stores, Inc.); Paul Murray (Director, Environmental Safety and Sustainability, Herman Miller, Inc.); Ajeet Rohatgi (Founder/ CTO, Sunavi: Ajeet stood in for James Modak, who was stuck in Europe due to travel cancellations); and Eric Hespenheide (Global Leader, Climate Change and Sustainability, Audit and Enterprise Risk Services, Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu).

Each man described how his company has adopted the triple bottom line (“people, planet, profit”) to – you guessed it – create value through sustainability. While everyone had lots to contribute, Mark Kistler of Walmart stood out just for the sheer scale of what his company can do.

For example, each executive stressed the importance of engaging employees in finding value through sustainability – which means, actively seeking employee input for ideas on how to save the planet. It’s not a new idea: everyone is smartening up, getting on that clue train, to realize that your staff and employees are your company’s biggest resource.

But when it’s Walmart, it’s just a little …different.

So, for example, when one bright Walmart manager called Pepsi to ask if it would be ok to shut off a particular light on the vending machine in the staff room, that move turned into an almost $1-million saving for Walmart. Turns out it was ok to turn that light off, the idea got passed along, and then every Walmart staff room vending machine’s light was turned off, leading to the windfall in savings.

Ok, you don’t have to be Walmart to save money, energy, and the planet by turning off the lights, but the enormity of the sums involved gives you an idea of what’s at stake when a company of Walmart’s size says, “we want to do it better.” It’s not trivial. (Yeah, you can be a sour puss and say, “Well, the reason they can save so much is because they waste so much in the first place,” but seriously: is that constructive criticism? No? Didn’t think so. After all, if they don’t set an example, who will?)

There was plenty more in Kistler’s presentation, as well as the others. Presumably, the broadcast will be archived and available for viewing later. (Click on links, above.)

In the discussion that followed at UVic, one university-affiliated person (and I didn’t get her name, sorry!) came up with a bright idea. What if, she suggested, organizations put it out there that employee-generated savings would go into a fund, and that employees then had control with regard to how it was used/ disbursed? Wouldn’t that be a great incentive! If the organization (say, the university – or a government department) saves X-number of dollars on account of a sustainability initiative propagated by the employees, the money isn’t simply “disappeared,” er, absorbed, by the organization, but is instead “paid forward” to help another cause. Whoa, triple bottom line win…

As Eric-the numbers-cruncher guy-Hespenheide said, “You measure what matters, and what gets measured, gets done.”


1 Comment

  1. […] I reported on Creating Value Through Sustainability, leading with one panelist’s insight around data: “You measure what matters, and what […]

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