By David and Cathy DuBois, SIOP Bloggers
Over the past few months we have attended three exciting sustainability conferences that we’d like to share with you: the SIOP Leading Edge Consortium (LEC), Environmental Sustainability at Work: Advancing Research, Enhancing Practice; the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education (AASHE); and Behavior, Energy and Climate Change (BECC). These were packed with sessions that merit reporting, but we will limit ourselves to 1 highlight per conference – we’ve included links below to their programs, should you want to peruse them for more detail. This is a rather long blog – it’s been a busy few months!
As noted in the October 30th SIOP newsletter, this event brought some of the best and brightest in the field of environmental sustainability to New Orleans, Louisiana. The LEC featured speakers from several corporations, including PepsiCo, Walmart, Interface, AT&T, Johnson Controls and 3M. Research highlights were provided by Deniz Ones & Stephan Dilchert, with professional practice addressed by Ed Lawler, Mark Schmit & Jennifer Norton, and consulting addressed by Anna Clark. Kudos to the organizers of this terrific conference: Sara Weiner, Deniz Ones, Stephan Dilchert & Mark Schmit! Web access to conference participation (the low carbon footprint option!) had its debut, with several locations participating.
Here we highlight the wisdom shared by Erin Meezan, Vice President of Sustainability for Interface, Inc., a carpet company that was an early pioneer in embedding sustainability strategy throughout the organization, led by the late and highly esteemed Ray Anderson. Erin shared her “Rules of the Road” as follows:
- Measure the impact of corporate sustainability.
- Push through the weird part. It’s worth it.
- Find ways to make it personally relevant.
- Design systems that support a culture where it’s “OK to fail”, which opens innovative pathways.
- Set an aggressive goal, but build the culture around the journey.
- Don’t forget the power of storytelling.
These points highlight the need to design ways to reach and involve all employees on both intellectual and emotional levels. Sustainability requires culture change, which inspires I/O professionals to ‘reach across the aisle” to OD professionals, and work in partnership to develop and implement systems to effect organizational transformation.
The AASHE conference features the full array of players in higher education institutions, from sustainability managers to professors and administrators, to professionals working in a variety of capacities including facilities, food service, procurement, waste management and many more. It’s useful to attend a conference this broad, to just absorb the perspectives and challenges and inspirations from the wide variety of stakeholders involved in implementing sustainability initiatives at the institutional level.
The session we’d like to highlight is our own: “What if People Really Mattered? Designing a Socially Sustainable Workplace.” From a social sustainability perspective, HR systems and professionals have typically focused on “not doing harm” to workers – i.e., EEO law, employee justice perceptions, safety and health, etc. Organizations view and treat workers as instrumental to organizational goal accomplishment, and tend to overlook their intrinsic human value. As such, organizational practices often result in the transfer of value from employees to other stakeholders. Workers are expected to bear the costs of decreased personal well-being from their work situation, resulting from increased work demands, poor working relationships, and inadequate resources/support, among many others. Declines in emotional and physical health extract costs in quality of life, which eventually bleed back into the organization in terms of decreased productivity and morale, as well as increased absenteeism and health care utilization costs. We explored the notion of the meaning of work, as well as well-being theory. This session was inspired by our long interest in human thriving, and by our current consulting project in developing a 5 year strategic plan for health and well-being from a whole-systems sustainability perspective. You can expect to see more from us on this project in the future.
Finally, the BECC conference provided another opportunity to immerse ourselves in a wide array of perspectives on behavior change related to sustainability, including communities as well as non-profit, for-profit and government organizations. This conference is co-sponsored by the Precourt Energy Efficiency Center at Stanford University, The American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy, and the California Institute for Energy and Environment, and was inspired by those in engineering and technology disciplines who recognized that technology can’t provide all the answers to our environmental challenges – for appropriate use of technology is incumbent on human behavior. Interacting with an array of researchers and professionals working in the energy sector who actively reach out to those of us with behavior change expertise is truly exciting! The conference was first convened 6 years ago, and alternates between Sacramento, CA and Washington, DC.
The opening plenary was given by Andrew Hoffman, Professor of Sustainable Enterprise at the University of Michigan: Culture, Ideology and a Social Consensus on Climate Change. His website (http://webuser.bus.umich.edu/ajhoff/) provides links to his many articles and books which we highly recommend as resources for those in the I/O field who seek to expand their understanding of business rationale and context for sustainability. Cathy moderated the session “Unique Approaches to Employee Engagement,” and David presented “Using ‘Design Thinking’ in the Development of Engagement Strategies for Sustainability.” BECC will post PowerPoint slides and papers on their website in the coming weeks – we’ll post that link when it’s available.