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Is it Time to Re-Think Your Green Team?

3p Contributor | Wednesday August 25th, 2010 | 1 Comment

The following is a guest post by Edward Quevedo, Esq of Paladin Law. and Leilani C. Latimer or Sabre Holdings. It concerns work done by 3p’s new sponsor, Dominican University’s Green MBA program. You can look forward to a new series of posts by Dominican in the coming weeks.

Can Green Teams help companies innovate beyond internal operations and actually influence product and service innovation? If so, what will it take to realign and redesign these teams so that their energy and social capital can be optimized? This was the focus of a recent research study published by Sabre Holdings, Dominican University and Paladin Law Group.

Going into this project it had already been widely established that “Green Teams”, or employee- led teams focused on environmental and sustainability initiatives, were infusing the workplace with much needed education and catalyzing awareness about the issues. What was less apparent, however, was the extent to which Green Teams had been able to harness their energy in such a way as to drive product and service innovation, or add what we call “Enterprise Value.”

Our research study produced several compelling insights. The study – a result of interviews with 14 companies across industries that are recognized leaders in employing differentiating sustainability initiatives and Green Teams – found that Green Teams are barely scratching the surface when it comes to generating sustainable value externally. Given the significant management and employee time and energy that goes into these teams, the generation of Enterprise Value would seem to be a given, but typically this is not the case.

Thankfully, we found that there are a few examples of companies that are leading the way and have employed some best practices that are readily repeatable, and all of the companies featured in the research project had (similar to the authors here!) pondered the dilemma and were investigating ways to organize and optimize the energy and social capital of their Green Teams.

In order to innovate beyond internal operations and cost savings, and even to successfully implement internal initiatives, Green Teams need specific alignment with existing company goals, and require explicit design for success – that is, a design for specific outcomes, a design criterion that project and product teams in businesses must always have. This design must integrate with established business processes.

This may appear an obvious set of success criteria, yet traditionally – and currently – most Green Teams are loosely managed and tend to be “grass roots” in nature. In previous research studies and various articles on Green Teams, the general premise has been that, while these teams benefit from corporate support and guidance, a hands-off approach is what encourages creativity, innovation and engagement.

According to the results of our study, the reality is actually the opposite. The key factors for the successful evolution of Green Teams in generating Enterprise Value, and ultimately sustainable business transformation, were identified as;

1. Strong Executive Support

Buy-in at the highest levels of the organization means that Green Teams are aligned with the company’s goals and the companies themselves view sustainability as an issue that is an important part of their business values and foundation. Executives must view their work on an equal footing with new product or service development or launch. In short, the competitive advantage of effective Green Teams must be understood and embraced.

2. Close alignment with the company’s sustainability goals

Providing a specific charter for alignment with the company’s overarching sustainability goals ensures that Green Teams understand what they can do specifically to support these goals and increases employee engagement and sense of purpose. This “line of sight” alignment helps to prevent Green Team participation from being merely something else the employees need to get to, and helps drive their work to the core of the enterprise.

3. The presence of a centralized leader

Structured guidance and governance provided by a centralized Sustainability leader ensures greater Green Team alignment with the company’s Sustainability goals and provides a conduit for capturing the Green Teams’ ideas back into the corporation.

4. High diversity amongst team members

Green Teams are more successful both in the planning and execution of initiatives when they include representatives from different business units and/or departments who can provide diverse perspectives and insights to an overall holistic operation. New employees should be included, as well as those with diverse cultural and corporate experience, and time spent working abroad.

5. Systems for creating, measuring and tracking initiatives

Formal measurements, indicators, systems and processes are necessary to quantify the outcomes of the Green Teams and to capture ideas that will drive product and service innovations, increase operational efficiencies in the workplace, and keep the business on the cutting edge of its industry. The expected impact or outcomes, measurably defined, for these Green Teams needs to be considered and defined at the outset.

Employee-led Green Teams will continue to inspire, lead, transform, and contribute Enterprise Value to corporate operations. But a Green Team is no different than a Working Mothers group or any other type of team – they all need systems and tools that will allow them to channel their ideas into existing business systems, and to do so in a way that can create “user-generated” change. This reinforces the basic foundational concepts of Sustainability Management; enterprise transformation for sustainable value has to be systemic and exist within the frameworks at the core of an organization, not at the fringe.

Change can be cosmetic and transient. It is externally driven and can easily be reversed. Transformation is core, fundamental, and lasting. It comes from finding shared sense of
purpose through meaningful collaboration, from within enterprise, and as such represents evolution of culture.

Our research also stands as an excellent reminder that change management, business transformation and sustainability fundamentally require the same rules of engagement to succeed and sustain over the long term. So, while employee-led teams’ focus or passion may differ, operational support and systems, and an underlying culture of innovation at the core of the organization must be granted so that ideas can become tangible, actionable initiatives that create generative change.

About the research study:

The study was performed by a team of four MBA students who recently graduated from the MBA Program in Sustainable Enterprise (the Green MBA®)at Dominican University (Niko Ackerman, MBA, Stephen Helliwell, MBA, Jonah Nisenson, MBA, and Taylor Pattinson, MBA) . The study was designed by Leilani Latimer, Director of Sustainability Initiatives at Sabre Holdings and Edward Quevedo, Esq., faculty at the Green MBA® and Chair of the Sustainability Practice at Paladin Law Group® LLP.
About Sabre Holdings

Sabre Holdings connects people with the world’s greatest travel possibilities by retailing travel products and providing distribution and technology solutions for the travel industry. Sabre Holdings supports travelers, travel agents, corporations, government agencies and travel suppliers through its companies: Travelocity, Sabre Travel Network and Sabre Airline Solutions. Headquartered in Southlake, Texas, the company has approximately 9,000 employees in 59 countries. To learn more about Sabre’s environmental sustainability programs, visit our website.


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  1. August 27, 2010 at 12:21 pm PDT | KJ Janowski writes:

    We’ve found that many green teams are more like “nights and weekends” volunteer efforts than they are a part of the day-to-day jobs of their members. To keep up the required level of momentum and enthusiasm, executive level support (and Green Team membership of an executive) is crucial! In addition, executive support helps to ensure that the necessary money and resources are there when needed.

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  1. August 25, 10 at 6:22 am PDT | Entrepreneur Magazine: Why Employees Should Be at the Heart of Your Crisis Plan « Center for "First Wave" Management & Economics News Study writes:

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