State of Green Business

What sustainability goals and the Apollo program have in common

On a hot September day in Houston, Texas, a young president told the American people that their govrnment was going to commit to achieving what was once science fiction.

"We choose to go to the moon in this decade, and do the other things. Not because they are easy, but because they are hard," John Fitzgerald Kennedy said to an audience at Rice University in 1962.

NASA's moon shot  was a result of thinking big. Carter Roberts says that setting big goals can mean big gains for companies in the long run.

Roberts, CEO of the World Wildlife Fund, spoke with GreenBiz's Joel Makower in a Studio C interview at GreenBiz Forum 2015 in Phoenix, Arizona to tralk about why setting crazy-big goals ultimately helps companies and organizations.

"The odds of succeeding are far greater if you set a huge goal," Roberts said. "If you only get 50 or 60 percent of the way there, you're changing the world. If you set a tiny goal and hit it, it doesn't matter."

Of course, there's the risk of failure. The fear of that failure, Roberts says, is the reason companies set such small goals.

There were failures and shortcomings in the Apollo program too; Apollo 1 killed three astronauts in a fire and Apollo 13 was a "successful failure" that didn't see a moon landing. The risks in business are different than sitting atop a million pounds of high explosive, but the benefits of taking on big projects may help companies reach new heights too.

"The truth is, consumers will love it if you set a big goal and make every effort to get there, and along the way do some things that have never been done before," Roberts said.

"I'd love to come back with a story that lights people up," he said. "And demonstrates [a company's] progress towards something that's not just solving their footprint, but solving the problem at a planetary level."