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The Innovative Workplace

Being green

Add corporate sustainability to the reasons why businesses will want to do business with your agency

By Don Phin

I recently received an interesting call from one of my broker clients who asked if I had a corporate sustainability policy. Apparently, she received an RFP from a rather large prospect, and part of that RFP wanted to know what the agency's policy was on it. Perhaps you've received similar requests. I can tell you that if you're going to go after larger companies, you're going to receive many more requests like this.

So what is corporate sustainability exactly? To paraphrase the Dow Jones Sustainability Index, it is a business approach that creates long-term shareholder value by embracing opportunities and managing risks deriving from economic, environmental and social developments. Corporate sustainability leaders achieve long-term shareholder value by gearing their strategies and management to harness the market's potential for sustainability products and services while at the same time successfully reducing and avoiding sustainability costs and risks.

Sounds a lot like corporate speak to me!

Let me address this in part by telling you about my experience in this area. A number of years ago, I sat on a board with the top environmental groups in San Diego to fashion a corporate responsibility policy, K-12 educational environmental program, and a political awareness program. We received input from government agencies, environmental groups, scientific groups, landowners, corporate executives, and many others over an 18-month period. What you quickly realize is that corporate sustainability is a multi-faceted concept, much like corporate ethics or corporate responsibility. In fact, it is my belief that they should simply be parts of a whole.According to a Conference Board study of 18 major corporations, the top reasons for increased focus on sustainability by companies were:

1. Reputation, brand

2. Stakeholder pressure (especially customers)

3. Reduce waste (and costs), increase productivity

4. Employee morale, motivation and recruitment

5. Peer pressure (competitors, high-visibility companies)

Here is a short but sweet corporate sustainability policy: Do good for the earth and its people.

That's all you need. That's true north. You can simply ask the question: "Is this good for the earth and the people on it?" Most agencies and most of your clients aren't some bureaucratic operation with hundreds of offices, retail stores, thousands of employees and corporate governance committees. Most of the agencies we deal with are privately held and the decision to be ethical, responsible, sustainable or environmental is primarily a personal choice of ownership.

In its simplicity, my short but sweet corporate sustainability policy incorporates such areas as the conservation and recycling of materials including carbon, reduction in emissions, conservation of energy, and conserving physical resources. Now let me give you some suggestions on how you can execute it.

Getting started

Realize that the term "sustainability" implies long-term. How can we do something now that has long-term benefits? For example, going paperless has resulted in a huge environmental contribution by many agencies. For the paper you do need, buy recycled paper.

Begin looking around you. Does your agency have a recycling program? Do you try to minimize the use of plastic? One way to do that is to buy your employees BPA-free water bottles and encourage them to use them. Purchase fair trade coffee. Work with green vendors. Use organic cleaning products. Make sure any cleaning service does too.

Think about other recycling initiatives such recycling old electronic equipment or their components—computers, cell phones, toner cartridges.

Realize that indoor air pollution is worse than outdoor air pollution. What have you done to reduce indoor air pollutants? Do you have low VOC copiers, carpet and paint on the walls? Do you have a good source of clean air? For example, do you have clean air filters throughout the office? Can you actually open up a window and enjoy some fresh air?

Try to improve low-energy and natural-light sources. Use low-energy lighting systems. Turn off computers and lights at night. Lower your thermostat a couple of degrees during the winter months and increase it a couple of degrees during the summer months.

Look for ways to reduce carbon emissions such as ride sharing or offering employee bus passes. Consider whether telecommuting would work in your agency to reduce the number of cars on the road.

Adopt a local river, street, or beach. I find that direct action is most powerful. Instead of sitting on nonprofit boards right now, I donate to these causes and most Friday mornings I clean up plastic on the beach near my house. By the time I'm finished, I have a sack that looks like one Santa Claus would carry. That's the amount of plastic gathered up on two miles of pristine state beach in one week.

Make it personal. Adopt a local environmental charity. See how you can help their cause. Or support a school environmental program. Plant trees—whether in a public park or in front of your office. And if you own your agency location, consider solar power or a roof garden.

In short, become an advocate for corporate sustainability.

Start planning

One reason why wellness programs, social media policies, and sustainability programs often don't work is because they operate on the premise of a top-down directive. They're not organic. They're a mandate; they're not about us. Successful policies are brought together through agreement. That way they are self-policed.

As part of your planning, organize a meeting and encourage employees to come up with some ideas. Offer prizes, make it fun. Don't underestimate the importance of this effort. I can tell you now that if you want business from the business owners of the future, you're going to have to be green. You're going to have to set an example, not just have a policy. This will help you attract the best and brightest employees, and clients as well.

If my proposed policy is a bit too short for you, here's the outline of a model policy that would apply to the agency environment. It is adapted from a far more complex one issued by the American Bar Association for law firms. (I had to whittle it down. Lawyers like using a lot of words!) If you want the full policy I tweaked for the agency environment, simply e-mail me at

To learn more about corporate sustainability, I suggest the following resources: Alliance for Research on Corporate Sustainability (; Dow Jones Sustainability Indexes (; (; U.S. Green Building Council (; and The Natural Step (

I also recommend the following books on the subject: Environmental Science: Toward a Sustainable Future (11th Edition) by Richard T. Wright and Dorothy Boorse; Making Sustainability Work: Best Practices in Managing and Measuring Corporate Social, Environmental and Economic Impacts by Marc Epstein; and Business Lessons from a Radical Industrialist by Ray Anderson.


It is in the best interests of our agency andsociety as a whole to move along the path to sustainability, which includes social, economic and environmental responsibility.

1. Economic success: the wise use of financial resources

• Organization's economic prosperity

• Community's economic prosperity

2. Social responsibility: respect for people

• Respect for employees

• Diversity, fair hiring practices

• Responsible governance; professional courtesy

• Dealing with clients; awareness and advice

• Well-being of stakeholders

3. Environmental responsibility: respect for life; the wise management and use of natural resources

• Resource and energy conservation

• Waste and pollution prevention and management

• Reduction of supply­chain impacts

The author

Don Phin is president of the Employer Advisors Network, Inc., and the author of the "HR That Works" series of compliance and management products. He is the editor of "Employment Practices Liability Consultant" (EPLiC) published by IRMI. He can be contacted at


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