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Darcy Winslow, Founder of DSW Collective and Peter Senge, Senior Lecturer at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Founding Chair of SoL, the Society for Organizational Learning joined the Future of Green Open Conference Call to discuss their experiences working to make businesses more sustainable.
Winslow worked at Nike, Inc. for more than 20 years, and starting in 1999 helped initiate Nike's ambitious sustainability initiative. In addition to his classic business management tome, The Fifth Discipline, Senge is author of The Necessary Revolution, a well-regarded guide to how systems thinking can help bring about a more sustainable world.
A few of the many insights from this call are:
- Winslow and Senge choose to work with groups that are already inclined to a sustainability mindset. They avoid situations where they must change people's minds; where they would be "pushing rocks up hill". Senge describes how the reaction "I need a business case to justify a focus on sustainability" may be a red herring: it may be a legitimate request for help to explain the program, but it could be a deliberate obstacle to avoid action.
- It took years before the changes at Nike were widely adopted. Winslow works through the timeline from her start in 1999 when some senior managers were "allowing" her work to happen; to the point about six months later when her project was "apprehended" by management and required to show return on the pilot projects they were implementing; through 2006 when the project finally "tipped" and was widely accepted by top management. She talked about this last step as "nirvana" when leadership is making it happen – integrating resources, manpower, and responsibility throughout the organization.
- Senge argues that every change situation is different but has common elements amongst which are the need for perseverance and patience. He suggested that organizational change requires a paradoxical stance that is at once committed to change while respectful of the company culture – "the essence of who we are." In the Nike example, Winslow targeted "creatives" as key influencers in the corporation and approached individual designers, developers, and engineers, before eventually approaching Marketing (a "tough sell"). She garnered a group of 100 champions throughout the organization and worked with them to develop a common language and a common goal, a "north star," to guide their efforts.
- In discussion with host Jerry Michalski, Winslow and Senge talked about the importance of followers as well as leaders, the need to "leave ego at the door," and the importance of networks of relationships.
- Winslow argued that shared resources, bandwidth, and investment are necessary to address the sustainability challenges we're facing. She highlighted the CERES project BICEP and GreenXchange (discussed in an earlier EDFix Call) as two organizations promoting collaboration to respond to these needs.