Creating a Sustainability Army

A new book, Army of Entrepreneurs (AOE), by Jennifer Prosek, shares a system that makes entrepreneurial behavior as a core part of a business.  While the book focuses on business in general, insights and lessons learned can be applied successfully to the business of sustainability. 

All too often, as companies begin to expand and grow, much of the emphasis is placed on building a management structure of authority, and checks and balances.  Managers on top are with the power, and those on the bottom are at the whim of the people on top.  Prosek changes this dynamic, suggesting to empower every member your staff into entrepreneurs.

From the book, “An AOE is, in short, an internal force of committed employees.  It is a structure and a mindset that enables a business to grow beyond you–the business founder, owner, CEO.”

As sustainability professionals, we are often the one of the few pushing sustainability initiatives. Imagine enabling and empowering a workforce towards sustainability oriented goals, beyond just one person or one sustainability department in a company?  Think of of what an army of sustainability entrepreneurs can achieve?

Prosek suggests four steps towards creating an army of entrepreneurs.  In our case, these four steps can be applied towards creating an army of sustainability entrepreneurs (or intrapreneurs).

1)  Authenticity: Authenticity is a concept familiar with sustainability folk.  It’s about being real not only to yourself and being real to employees.  But Prosek takes this beyond just personal authenticity, towards being transparent and honest in all aspects of the business.

This includes information about profits and losses, the truthful reasons behind winning or losing clients, and anything that is going on with the company.  Prosk suggests, “We do not keep secrets.  We do not operate on the old “need to know” system.

The more employees know, the more empowered they are to make the quick and informed decisions for the company, or for us, towards sustainability.

2)  Commitment to People: I enjoyed Prosek’s imagery of people and culture, “a culture is not a static object, it’s an ecosystem.”  That ecosystem of people needs care and treatment, recognizing successes as a group, but also allowing for individual initiative and autonomy.  By heeding this advice of great care of the people ecosystem, perhaps we can make further strides in taking great care of our environmental ecosystem.

3)  Commitment to Business: If employees are empowered with authenticity, commitment, not to mention the “owner’s mindset”, it is natural that there will be a goal to the success of the business itself.  Likewise, perhaps a commitment to the long-term success of the business will yield business decisions that are friendly towards a sustainable environment.  If our environment is degraded by our own businesses actions, will our business even survive for the long-term?

4)  Continuous Effort: This is a gentle reminder that we must continually implement and evaluate all of the above steps.  In terms of using AOE for sustainability, perhaps we can say it is about sustaining sustainability within our given business or organization.  How paradoxical would it be to push sustainability forward, only to have it stopped by not continually pushing it forward?

Throughout Army of Entrepreneurs, each of these steps and themes are elaborated and expanded upon, with anecdotes, case studies, and research.  But more so, AOE gives you an action plan of how to make and measure these four concepts into part of your (sustainable) business.  For us, it’s using this process to empower all the employee entrepreneurs to see and act on sustainability initiatives.  The more hands we have for a business to act sustainably the better.

While AOE was written for business in general, there is much to be applied towards the empowering our employes to build and seize opportunities for sustainability.

Jonathan Mariano is an MBA candidate with the Presidio Graduate School in San Francisco, CA. His interests include the convergence between lean & green and pursuing free-market based sustainable solutions.

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