Let our actions be the guardians of our dreams

26 Feb. 2012

Sustainability in medium enterprises: learning the how's and moving further

There are times when we feel we need to take our contribution to another level. After working with sustainability in big companies for about 5 years, I’ve been feeling more and more uncomfortable with the fact that sustainability is evolving much slower than specialists, policy makers, businesspeople and citizens believe it should.

Why is it?

Passed the “what is sustainability?” and “why should we care?” phases, I believe the challenge now is finding the “how’s”.

In the business arena in Brazil, moved by belief or public pressure, big companies are evolving. For medium and small enterprises, on the other hand – except those companies which were born with a sustainability philosophy, the situation is quite different.

In order to address that, my friend Marcio Jappe and I decided to use our networks and experience to bring practical stories of professionals who made a difference in their organizations to a larger audience. We expect the disclosure of the “how’s” may move more people and more companies – especially medium-sized – to adopt sustainability and harvest its results.

In that sense, we just launched Sustentabilidade na Empresa (i.e. Corporate Sustainability), a website to host interviews with renowned sustainability professionals, as well as complementary posts which will explain key concepts and practices. We are focused on Brazil, so all the content is in Portuguese.

Check out the first interview with Claudia Martins, InterfaceFlor Sales Director in Brazil.

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20 Feb. 2012

Men: we don’t care about your money!

I’m disappointed with the amount of smart men who still think money is the fundamental thing women look for when searching for a partner. Often, I hear men saying “it’s a biological thing, ‘cause women are looking for safety” or “wealthy men always find themselves beautiful girls” or even “if I were a chick, I would wanna ride a BWM”.

In a world where increasingly more women have similar professional opportunities as men, financial safety or a BWM are wishes we can accomplish on our own – it’s actually smarter, once we don’t need to compromise anything for that cause.

I don’t want to say money is not important. Talking about motivation at work, Daniel Pink makes the point that people are not motivated by money, but by other factors, such as autonomy and purpose. Long story short, the smartest thing to do is pay people enough so they take the issue of money off the table.

That’s exactly what we should be looking at in relationships: have enough money, so it’s not an issue. What really matters is what we build on top of that. Ask your friends who have two-year-plus happy relationships what they love about their partner. I bet none would say money. What we care about is living fun moments, sharing values, admiring the other, being supported in hard times and receiving stimuli to learn. Those are the founding characteristics of a fulfilling relationship, which can only be achieved together, with a special chosen person.

Having said that, we’ll continue having well-off men looking for a nice body to show around and have fun with – and vice-versa. As long as it’s a conscious exchange, fine! However, just like we can’t expect the best talent to be engaged at work for the sake of money, the best relationships involve autonomy and purpose – and therefore generate commitment, excitement and happiness.

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21 Aug. 2011

Change: overestimated in 2 years; underestimated in 10

In 1997, in his first CEO Summit keynote speech, Bill Gates said “there’s a tendency to overestimate how much things will change in 2 years and underestimate how much change will occur over 10 years.”

If we think about sustainability and the needed changes in society, that is clearly the case. Think about yourself in 2001. Or maybe a decade earlier, in 1991. In my case, in 1991, I was growing up at an agricultural town in the South of Brazil. Most of the small farmers planted tobacco, very few people made it to the university and tossing a candy wrap out of the car window was common.

In 2001, I was a sophomore at university. The Ethos Institute had just been created in Brazil and GRI had just released its first Sustainability Reporting Guidelines. I didn’t know of both by them. Time passed. In 2006 there were 1190 companies associated to Ethos and in 2010 over 1400 companies published sustainability reports according to the GRI standards.

So, what’s in front of us in the next decade? I have no doubt the sustainability agenda will keep growing towards becoming mainstream. From 2001 to 2010, it was still innovators’ business. Nobody really knew if it would be good for profits and the environmental problems were not as evident. Now we know we have a huge energy dilemma and climate change is a reality. Besides, politicians feel the need to present an environmental platform and 93% of Global Compact 766 CEOs see sustainability as important to their future success. In my opinion, we’ve been building momentum and now it’s time to bring the sustainability agenda into its element.

Having said that, it’s crucial to point out the sustainability agenda is supposed to be meaningful and practical for each organization. Not every company should care about biodiversity or health or carbon emissions, although all those issues are important to society. A bank shall focus on financial education, a cosmetics firm shall do species conservation, beverages producers shall save water, logistic companies shall reduce their emissions and household appliances developers shall look at energy efficiency. On top of that, there’s obviously room for radical technology innovation (e.g. low cost renewable energy solutions) and social innovation (e.g. peer-to-peer landing).

In this sense, I had a mind-blowing experience last Friday, at work. In the middle of a household appliances market downturn, I’ve seen 36 people getting together aimed to reach a 15% reduction in energy and water consumption per manufactured product – it’s a lot harder to reach the goal with low production, because some of the machines need to be on no matter how many products we make. (In the end of the day, energy efficiency is a big cause for Embraco and we want to go beyond the product itself, which is already the most efficient in the world.) In addition to the specialists’ and operators’ group, I’ve heard 4 managers spontaneously and resourcefully talking about the importance of the initiative for our corporate sustainability commitment and for reaching satisfactory economic, social and environmental results, for us and for the next generations.

This is the type of construction that doesn’t happen in 2 years. People need more than that to feel comfortable bringing the subject to work, proposing projects and influencing other people in this direction, both inside the company and with stakeholders. And this is the kind of focused efforts that I expect to see more and more in the next decade.

I don’t know exactly how much we can accomplish in 2 years. But I believe our foundations and experiences are getting strong enough to reduce our footprint and respond to some of society’s demands. In the end of the day, we can roughly tell what will happen in the next 10 years.

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30 Apr. 2011

What makes extraordinary people extraordinary?

From times to times, I catch myself asking unsettling questions such as "why did [name] give up about his/her youth ideals?" and "am I doing enough?". Considering role models exist everywhere, but are far from being abundant, I also started asking "what make extraordinary people extraordinary?".

With no scientific exploration or ambition to create a recipe, I came up with two necessary characteristics, based solely on my observation and judgement.

1) Direction
Not all extraordinary people I know have huge dreams, complete plans or deep sense of purpose. That can happen, but it's generally not the case - at least, when they start. When I mention direction, I mean a clear objective, generally matched by a reason why it should happen. "I'm developing this product so small companies can market their products better", "I've started the trail building NGO because I would like other people to experience contact with nature" or "I go to hostile places to understand if the image I have from places is real".

It sounds simple. In my experience, it's really not. At work and in life we commonly find ourselves overloaded with activities people invite us to, appointments we can't say no to, and projects we are assigned to run. "You are going to your ex co-worker's wedding, right?", "can I count on you for preparing the surprise party?", "this project will give our team more credibility with the board - we will take it". Recently, I've met people I admire not having time for their much expected children, missing momentum for launching projects they really believe in, and moving to other countries without any conviction.

Differently, consistent extraordinary people focus their attention on what they believe is the most important thing they should be doing at a particular moment in time. This doesn't mean they are anti-social or rigid. Quite the opposite. They know exactly what they expect as an outcome and are ready to do all the changes needed to get there.

2) Initiative
Once again, extraordinary people are not super heroes. But they have something in them which make them feel they need to get started. Direction without initiative is useless - and unfortunately very common. Reasons are many: too many urgent things to solve, risk of losing what we have and fear of failure are just the most usual ones.

Extraordinary people don't feel afraid of trying something new. At some point, they normally choose to leave what they currently have for the perspective of creating something remarkable. This can mean create a new project in our current job, start a new organization dealing with an unfamiliar issue, start travelling or get a divorce.

Extraordinary people understand that the risk of not taking the risks and living a boring life is just not worth it.

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13 Mar. 2011

Gender equality: this generation's choice

This year I heard less talks, received less compliments and even saw less commercial propaganda about international women’s day than usual – which concerned me.

It’s a fact that inequality is still a big issue: women only occupy 19% of the parliamentary seats, receive 10% of the income, own 1% of the property and have 33% chance of being victim of violence.

Source: Vital Voices

This is completely unacceptable. But let’s not talk about genital mutilation or women's trafficking for sexual purposes in this article. I would like to explore the signs we've got accustomed to seeing as normal, those day-to-day situations you and I live every day.

Just yesterday, I went to the Christian religious wedding of a 22-year-old educated young woman. She is filled with happiness for having found the one she believes is her life-long partner. So she organized a beautiful wedding, invited their loved ones and personalized the ceremony so they could see themselves in it. When they were saying their vows – vows they wrote themselves – she goes: “I’ve been blessed for being chosen by God to be your partner. I promise I’ll love you forever and, although it’s not easy, I’ll try to be obedient to you, so that I can support you on being the man you want to be.”

What about what she wants to be? Is she supposed to stop thinking about it? Is he going to support her when she needs strength, understanding and a bit of sacrifice? Well, it turns out women’s equality in developed places among educated girls is not an issue from previous generations.

Bringing in the professional arena, Facebook’s COO Sheryl Sandberg recently talked on TED Women about why there are so few women at top positions. She told stories and brought in data showing that women systematically underestimate their abilities compared to men and tend to attribute their success to external factors, while men attribute it to themselves. Now, there are obviously historical factors influencing these behaviors but we’ve got to tell girls they are supposed to reach for the opportunities, we’ve got to be conscious not to fall back into the pattern and we’ve got to stimulate women in our workplace to aim higher.

This is not only a fairness issue. It’s also an economic and security issue – let women work and they drive economic growth; send a girl to school, even just for 1 year, and her income dramatically increase for life; deny women equal rights and the instability of nations are almost certain – is what Hillary Clinton said in another talk at TED Women.

This is the generation to drive the practical aspects of gender equality. Before us, women fought for the rights to study, to vote, to own property, to make choices about the sexual life and to work. Now it’s time to bring all that into their element, acknowledging our intellectual capacity, having objectives of our own and striving to reach these goals – and higher!

We shall definitely put more light on International Women’s Day on the years to come. Because it's the right thing to do. And because it will make us all – men and women – healthier, richer and happier.

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25 Nov. 2010

Sustainability benchmark interview with Nike

Nike’s Sustainable Business and Innovation VP Hannah Jones was recently in Brazil and conceived an interview to Página 22. The interview was so focused on practice it can almost be considered a benchmark to sustainability professionals. She talked about supply chain, risk management, social investment success indicators, recycling, competitiveness and future trends.
Here are some points which called by attention:

1) Supply chain: the cycle goes innovation > monitoring > incentives > standards. I’d like to call attention to the incentives part. Rather than just demanding different practices from the suppliers, Nike stopped to ask: “what can really drive behavior?” Based on that, they trained their suppliers in people management and lean manufacturing. They also drafted an index and provided results based incentives. Prepared people, standard efficient process, results based incentives was Nike’s recipe to reach 1 million outsourced employees in 52 countries.

2) Social investment success indicators: the social impact is incredibly difficult to measure. Ten years ago, the arguments for doing social investment were only reputation and philanthropy. Today, it’s possible to show shareholder value, through risks reduction, efficiency and innovation. We should also strive to measure the social transformation itself, which keeps being hard.

3) Transparency: “I prefer to say I have a problem rather than hear people saying what my problems are. I prefer to disclose my challenges, because others might have the answer. If I don’t define the problem, how can I reach the solution?”

4) Future: after the internet, the next economic competitiveness wave is sustainability.

5) Nike's Sustainability Everest (2050):
- 80% carbon footprint reduction
- 100% renewable energy
- zero impact on water
- zero waste
- 100% lean, fair and green supply chain
- all youth with access to sports

Source: The great leap (in Portuguese)

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15 Nov. 2010

How to build a sustainability brand

In times of natural resources scarcity and conscientious consumers, many of the well known global brands are trying to connect the attribute “sustainable” to who they are. Many times, though, the intent doesn’t bring strong results, because the sustainability message is everywhere and the consumers can tell real efforts and greenwashing apart. (For more on greenwashing, check the fantastic Greenwash Guide, by Futerra.)

In this scenario, what can make a difference and build credibility? In my experience, the answer is: make it tangible.

Electrolux has a wonderful example. They set a goal to produce 100% recycled plastic vacuum cleaners. Their engineers reached 70%. The product design calls attention to the recycling feature and makes it very sexy. The recycled aspect is tangible to everyone who glances at the product.

However, the company had trouble scaling the idea. “We struggle to get hold of enough recycled plastics to meet the demand for our sustainable vacuum cleaners,” says Cecilia Nord, Vice President, Floor Care Environmental and Sustainability Affairs. So, what did Electrolux do? Gave up? No, they decided to call attention to another global issue – the plastic waste accumulating at our oceans – and launched the Vac the Sea initiative, exploring the intelligent link between the action and the product functionality.

The result is an inspiring case calling attention to a few critical world issues – waste generation, lack of recycled raw material and dirty oceans. It's also driving goodwill from employees, partnering organization, consumers and media – and gluing the "sustainable" attribute to Electrolux's brand, in a very tangible way.

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