Sustainable Business Series—Is Sustainable More Productive?

On Monday February 13th it was a full house at Cook + Fox as Bard MBA’s Sustainable Business Series continued, this time with the theme of “Is sustainable more productive?” Director Goodstein began the night’s discussion by arguing that if sustainability was not more productive then it wouldn’t succeed, thus the kind of leadership that the new Bard MBA seeks to teach.

The evening’s program was jam packed with Julie Engerran, Director at Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu Limited; Serge Appel, Associate Partner at Cook + Fox and project architect for the LEED platinum Bank of America tower; and Lee Coker, Project Manager in the Corporate Partnerships Program at the Environmental Defense Fund.

Julie Engerran kicked off the night’s presentations with a conversation about what motivates the workforce, explaining that Deloitte has seen a strong link between how committed and engaged the employee is with how productive they are. She suggested that when employees are engaged, allowed to “see through their own vision,” and pursue their interests they are able to stretch their skills and build on them which enables them to bring those skills back to the company and the client to increase productivity.

Serge Appel continued the conversation by explaining how a sustainable physical environment can also lead to a productive work environment, with the central example of the Bank of America skycraper at One Bryant Park in New York City. The Bank of America building project’s objective was to put other green building projects by the same firm to shame, and set a high standard for building projects to follow.  As Rick Cook puts it, “the goal is not just to build buildings that are less bad, but buildings that make the world a better place.” And the goal of the building, and of Cook + Fox as a business, was to set a new standard about how to design for the future.

In terms of the built environment influencing employees’ productivity, studies have shown that companies save $10 million for every 1% increase in productivity.  With 82% of a company’s spending going towards human resources, this is not a small chunk of change for a company looking to cut costs, and can actually have a greater influence on business practices than energy conservation.

Lee Coker closed out the night’s discussion with an explanation of EDF’s Green Returns Team strategy for engaging companies:

  1. Align resources and achieve buy-in. He stated that 90% of a job is selling and trying to influence people.
  2. Identify opportunity. Find the companies that can make the greatest environmental impacts with their practices and improve their business at the same time.
  3. Establish metrics and baselines.  It’s always important to monitor and evaluate practices, and to keep track of progress.
  4. Develop goals and action plans.  He made the point that supply chain issues are not always the avenue to follow because they can get overly complicated. Instead, he recommended finding more efficient actions with greater payoffs where appropriate.
  5. Best practices sharing across portfolios. For big corporations it’s important to share successes and lessons learned from one factory or location with others. This will help to green up the company’s entire portfolio.

The night ended with a series of great questions from the audience, and a final thought about the importance of systems thinking and the need to integrate it into our business practices. Join us next week as we host an MBA student roundtable  where we’ll discuss how to integrate the above principles into an MBA degree and what makes an MBA sustainable.

–Melissa Provinsal, CEP’12

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