from Starbucks sustainability champions

We asked some Starbucks partners who have key roles in the successful implementation of sustainable development in the company’s operations to share some advice with others on their own journey to sustainability.

Advice from: Arnie Alger, Director, Strategy and Planning

  • I’m a big believer in ‘servant leadership.’ When you position yourself as a servant, a servant to other individuals, a servant to the environment, then your leadership is basically based on values that you have. If you really believe in that, a lot of good things will come to you, and this work in sustainability is one of those things.
  • There is a triangulation principle here. When you want to hit a center point, you triangulate to that center point. You have upper management support as one point of the triangle, finance support as another, and the environment or other sustainability issue as the third point of the triangle. With an integration of these three components, I see some very big wins for the company.
  • The timing is right. If you think about it, would you rather shop at a company that is socially responsible or one that doesn’t care about these things.

Advice from: Sue Mecklenburg, Vice-President, Business Practice

  • Moving corporate responsibility to the forefront in anybody’s daily agenda is the challenge we all face. I came to a company that had social responsibility as part of the value system, so I always have that to fall back on. Having a CEO that’s really committed to that makes it a lot easier.
  • You need to be persistent, you need to make your case, you need to have a lot of integrity, and you just need to keep at it and show results.
  • One of the most effective things that we’ve done is to sponsor people in other departments to go to places where their peers talk about these issues. If we talk to the architects, they say ‘oh that’s nice,’ but if we pay for an architect to go to a Green Building conference, then that architect comes back and says ‘Wow, that is what my peers are saying,’ and so we found that one of the most effective ways is not for us to be the agent for information, but let their peers do that. We devote a large piece of our budget for travel and conference fees for other departments.
  • Always look for alliances. Find out what’s important to people and then approach them in a way that meets their needs too. I’m always asking, ‘What are your interests, how can we align our interests?’ It’s important to make sure that you help to empower them to do what you knew they wanted to do anyway.
  • Make a good business case and don’t shy away just because it is going to cost money. We make all kinds of decisions that aren’t cheap or free. We buy very expensive coffee because we want high quality coffee. We don’t just make a business case that we should buy cheaper coffee because we’d save money. So I think that if you’re spending money on an environmental issue, that sometimes is just an expense that you decide that you’re going to make. I’m just very fortunate to be in a company where you’re allowed to make your case based on all of a range of things, you don’t have to first make a business case and then tag the rest of those things along with it. The financial case is not the sole driver. Every company makes trade-offs in the decisions they make. These are multifaceted issues that have many implications and you need to consider the whole picture.

Advice from: Ben Packard, Director, Environmental Affairs

  • First ask, ‘What is your company’s mission statement? What business are you in and who are you as a company?’ Don’t waste your time trying to implement sustainability until you’ve talked to the owner of the company and asked those questions.
  • If you want to be a leader in corporate social responsibility, the investment community has to recognize it, and one of the ways they recognize it is if they see clear focus and measurement and performance tracking in place as they do on financial measurements.
  • At the end of the day, it is about the quality of your relationships with people and that applies whether you’re talking to an internal purchasing agent, an activist, or a student. Nothing is sustainable if the personal relationships aren’t there. Take time to understand what matters to the other person. It means understanding what motivates other people in the company. For example, on the environmental footprint team, there are twenty different motivations for why people are there. I think my role is to understand who the champions are going to be in the company and what motivates them. You need to be relevant to their concerns and you’ve got to be relevant to the business. That means you need to understand what’s going on in the business.*
* The comments above are excerpted from the book, DANCING WITH THE TIGER: Learning Sustainability Step by Natural Step, by Nattrass and Altomare, New Society Publishers, 2002.

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