From director-level sustainability officer positions to CEO, more women have introduced a new paradigm to the business world—the ability to boost profits while reducing the environmental and social impacts of their organizations. Now many of these women, and those following in their footsteps, are in Southern California for two days of sharing ideas and networking.
At the Pasadena Convention Center, the Women in Green Forum is bringing together professional women (and yes, a few men) from various industries and functions to discuss topics from finance to fashion. Yesterday afternoon, women with sustainability leadership roles at AEG, Interface, and Walmart shared ideas on what can be done to get one’s organization to move responsibly towards achieving that triple bottom line.
Melissa Vernon of Interface, a leading modular carpeting manufacturer with annual sales of over US$1 billion, gave the perspective of someone who studied, lived, and breathed environmental issues since college and has made it her life’s work. Rather than work in the industry first and then learn about sustainability on the job, Vernon walked into Interface with her background in sustainability—and then had to learn about carpet. Interface has had a long interest in environmental issues since the early 1990s, and now the company focuses on social sustainability issues. Back in 2005 at a national sales meeting, Vernon had a role in eschewing the traditional golf or other recreational activities for which sales meetings are known—instead the national sales staff spent a day on community service. Many grumbled at first, but then the staff felt the rewards; community service has been the norm ever since.
Vonda Lockwood has a particularly inspiring story. She started at Walmart 24 years ago as a cashier to make some extra cash over the summer. That part time job led her to a long career at the giant retailer, from store management to operations to training and development–just to name a few of the many hats she has worn. Coming from the standpoint of a one-time Walmart associate, Lockwood was able to talk with many store employees and learn what could—and could not—be done to reduce each store’s waste. Long story short: as of this year’s second quarter, Walmart has donated 128 million pounds of food to food banks that otherwise would have entered a landfill. Along the way, Lockwood reminded the audience that education, dealing with internal opposition, and criticism are only bumps on the road to a series of accomplishments that can be life-changing.
Finally, Jennifer Regan of AEG shared some thoughts from the point of view of a relatively young entertainment and facilities management company. AEG started in 1996, and is privately owned—for now the company only monitors environmental metrics, and will soon release its first sustainability report. Regan started her journey interested in activism and moved abroad, only to find that she could affect the most change by going home. Like her colleagues who shared the floor with her, Regan acknowledged that she did not have all the answers—but asking the right questions can help bring professionals together to reach the best possible solutions for solving our most pressing problems.