BusinessClimate: Bringing corporate sustainability to the mainstream

Nature of Business radio, created and hosted by Chrissy Coughlin, is a weekly show on business and environment.

This week's conversation with Andrew McKeon, founder and principal of BusinessClimate touched upon the evolution of corporate sustainability and how environmental strategy must be at the core of business strategy.

In particular we discussed how the arc of sustainability is moving from the realm of corporate social responsibility or CSR to competitiveness to national security, but how a transformation is needed in the practices of management to bring this into the mainstream.

The good news is that although this transformation actually calls for new thinking about management, this new thinking is actually based on old systems thinking as you will hear throughout the podcast.

andrew mckeonAs a trained engineer, Andrew is programmed to see the big picture, identify connections, and bring project parts together. Informed in great part by the work of W. Edwards Deming, he sees continuous improvement of business (such as reducing waste and customer satisfaction) as a result of looking through this systems lens.

He argues, for instance, that if we are going to continue to manage what you measure and measure what you manage, we must also understand the interconnection of the systems we are managing to ultimately succeed. It is a way of reframing how we currently look at the triple bottom line because, as viewed now, when the economy is hurting, one of those bottom lines is ultimately going to suffer.

The real core of the issue here is how we are going to create a prosperous planet for 9-10 billion people in 30 to 40 years and what's going to happen with energy and resources. Senior people in business are, indeed, out there leading the charge looking for opportunities as well as ways to reduce risk. He cited Ray Anderson of Interface a few times as a prominent example of someone who redefined the marketplace and leadership and business. It can and has been done.

With regard to U.S. competitiveness, Andrew is baffled by the fact that although leaders on the subject are out there speaking on how companies must think about what is good for communities and the economy long term, the dialogue includes nothing about climate change, carbon, or demand on resources. Andrew argues that there is simply no way to remain competitive unless you do so.

As far as national security goes, the military is leading the charge and setting aggressive goals as you will hear. But as Andrew argues, civil society must show similar leadership and soon or else we are going to lose this battle as well.

Despite the seemingly insurmountable obstacles here to change corporate mindsets and priorities, Andrew remains optimistic. I ultimately asked him if business and leadership are too far off the mark to make real change and he replied that he really didn't think so. While there has been a change in last 30 to 40 years towards "short-termism" or "quick-buckism" companies are increasingly taking the long-term view and he finds it exciting to be part of this change.

George Papoulias edited this podcast.

 

 

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