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As managing director of the Wisconsin Sustainable Business Council, Jessy Servi Ortiz’s work focuses on helping companies lessen their environmental impact. Beyond recommending the book “Sustainability: A Guide for Boards and C-Suites” by Gilbert Hedstrom, she shared best practices in sustainability with BizTimes associate editor Arthur Thomas during a recent interview.
Do profitability and sustainability have to be mutually exclusive?
“No, I think it’s a misconception that sustainability costs money. … Sustainability is kind of like the iceberg analogy – that a lot of value around sustainability is sometimes below the surface or not immediately apparent to the untrained eye, so a lot of the value is sometimes vastly underestimated.”
Where should I start if my company has no formal approach to sustainability?
“I’d be remiss not to send people to our program, the Green Masters program, because it really is a great tool for businesses that are just getting started. … There’s also so much that businesses can do with efficiency that goes just beyond changing a lightbulb. … There is a lot of room for innovation in product and product design and redesign these days. … Really, I think it’s a lot of determining the metrics that matter to the particular business. A lot of sustainability is having a good sense of data and ... not wasting time on things that aren’t important or aren’t relevant to the businesses themselves.”
How can companies continue to build momentum in sustainability?
“Definitely finding a champion. Someone that is willing and interested in owning parts of sustainability. Having a diverse team that’s willing to work on sustainability, so a cross-functional team, somebody from finance, somebody from operations, somebody from HR that understands the human side of it that can incorporate what you’re doing into recruitment, retention, those sorts of initiatives as well. I think sustainability means so many different things to so many different people that sometimes they forget the basic step of just defining what it means for their organization and having a sustainability statement that can be the guidepost.”
What are some underappreciated opportunities for improvement?
“I will reiterate product design and development. … There’s tremendous opportunity to redesign the take-make-waste culture that manufacturers are sort of a part of to a more circular model. ... Aside from that I think the workforce and the people part of the equation is often overlooked and forgotten about in terms of both brand reputation and recruitment and retention. The younger workforce that’s rising up, they really want to work for companies that have values, that walk their talk, that are having a positive impact in the world, so even listening to their ideas and weaving that thinking into the organization can reduce your turnover costs.”
How do you better tap into the ideas of employees?
“I think these easy things of asking your employees get overlooked because it creates more work, but it doesn’t necessarily have to. If there’s an engaged process or you instill a thoughtful and idea-generating culture and that kind of becomes the norm, it’s much easier to explore those ideas. You can always make the idea-generator the person responsible for exploring the feasibility of the idea; it doesn’t have to become your work. If they have a great idea, let them take an hour or a lunch break or whatever it is to put a proposal together, research that idea.”
What are some of the challenges of sustainability, especially in a challenging economic environment?
“One of the biggest challenges right now is just the mindset of a business has returned to usual. There can be a lot to be learned from using sustainability as a framework for resiliency and rebuilding inside of businesses. … I think the new normal will create new opportunities and so businesses should not rely on what has always worked for them to be what works for them in the future. ... Taking the time to reinvent, reimagine, go back to the core values of who you are and think about how all of the systems are intertwined and consider putting somebody in charge of understanding what sustainability is and bringing that back to the C-suite. Explore the opportunity.”
Anything else to add?
“What I’ve seen on the market in terms of innovation and sustainability today is leaders actually going to their employees and being transparent and saying, ‘This is our situation and how can we help?’ The companies that have done that are in a much better position than those that haven’t right now.”