Chicago Green Jobs

Four Reasons Why Working With Corporations on Sustainability Creates Change
April 19, 2009, 9:11 pm
Filed under: Creating Green Behavior Change

I start fights wherever I go. Not because I’m particularly belligerent, mind you – it’s just that I’m a sustainability consultant who has spent two years working with Walmart. Many good, principled and passionate people believe that engaging with corporations on sustainability is “selling out” or “greenwashing.” Here are four reasons that I think they are wrong:

1. Corporations have a splendid bully pulpit. There are a lot of great causes in the world and a lot of great campaigns aimed at getting people to join those causes. Unfortunately, according to the Union of Concerned Scientists the average American experiences 3,000 advertising messages each day.  Even the most brilliantly crafted campaigns won’t inspire action if no one carves out the space to listen.

You know a great way to get someone to carve out some space to listen to you? Hire them and write them a regular paycheck! Corporations can not only communicate with their employees regularly and through a range of channels, their status as an employer allows them to cut through the static and get an ear.

2. Corporations have the numbers. You’re a pro, so you know that switching to CFL bulbs is one of the easiest and most high impact actions actions an individual can take to fight global warming. Making the switch saves $30 over the lifetime of a bulb and prevents about 450 pounds of carbon emissions. Now $30 bucks and a few hundred pounds of CO2 is nothing to sneeze at.  But let’s face it: $30 bucks per bulb stretched out over 5-10 years isn’t exactly strippers and clowns money. And since the average car emits 12,000 pounds of CO2 a year, cutting 450 pounds doesn’t feel very heroic.

This is why most CFL campaigns and stories focus on agregate impact, like “if every American changed just one light bulb, we’d save $8 billion and cut 2 million cars worth of green house gas emissions.” There is no single platform to convince every American to do anything, but corporations can set up tools that aggregate the efforts of their employees and demonstrate the impact they are having as a group. The bigger the company, the bigger the numbers; the associates in Walmart USA reported that they recycled 5 million pounds of aluminum in less than a year through PSP.

3. Corporations provide structure. Solving the challenge of global warming is such a complex and massive undertaking that plenty of people get discouraged before they even start. A corporate program acts as a filter that makes the challenge manageable and measurable. It’s a lot easier to start planning effective action when your goal is to reduce the company’s paper use by 10% by 2010 instead of To Save The World.

4. Corporations are full of people who want to make a difference and a sustainability program can give them the opportunity to do it. I’ve written a lot about how corporations have this great platform and structure and reach, but the truth is that there are always going to be hordes of disengaged, cynical, straight not having it employees. Fortunately, there are more employees who are hungry for an opportunity to be a part of something meaningful at work. I just ran a search for Walmart, recycling and PSP and came up with this post on

I have worked for Walmart for almost two years. I attended the PSP retreat and yes, I believe that if we (associates) get behind this project it will be a world changing event. We are the the largest company in the world, with 1.3 million associates. WE CAN CHANGE THE WORLD, for the better and leave our children a legacy to be proud of . We have been recycling for at least the last two years, but now we’re kicking it in to high gear. We will make a better life for our children and future generations. I make a challenge to everyone to choose your own personal sustainability project to work on, whether it be recycling, eating better, quit smoking, exercise, what ever you can do to make the yourself and the earth a better and healthier place for everyone.

I’m really proud of the work I do, and I’m confident that as Walmart continues down the path of creating positive sustainable change that I’ll get into fewer and fewer arguments.


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