Making the switch.
Creating a new mindset is never easy. Whether it’s introducing a concept like flextime into a traditional work environment or convincing a purchasing manager to choose recycled paper, change doesn’t happen overnight.
Resistance to change didn’t stop Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley from trying to influence the mindset of his city’s 3 million residents. Even though Chicago is better known for its “big shoulders” than its “tree huggers,” the mayor wants it to become the greenest city in America.
Commitment at the top is key to creating a new environmental mindset, according to “Green to Gold: How Smart Companies Use Environmental Strategy to Innovate, Create Value, and Build a Competitive Advantage,” by Daniel C. Esty and Andrew S. Winston (Yale University Press, 2006). Based on hundreds of interviews conducted for their book, Esty and Winston report that in addition to vision at the top, there needs to be specific goals, incentives and education.
The mayor’s first actions were to reverse Chicago’s history of cutting down more trees than it planted and to expand the city’s green space. The result is the city now manages some 547,000 street trees and cares for green space ranging from traffic medians to parks to rooftops.
The city’s first rooftop garden was built on top of City Hall, creating momentum for the green effort. Today, City Hall’s 21,000-square-foot rooftop can be as much as 60 degrees cooler in the summer than surrounding roofs, not to mention creating a home for plants, flowers and two honeybee hives. It has inspired approximately 300 Chicago rooftop gardens completed or in progress — more than all other U.S. cities combined, says Larry Merritt, public information officer for the Chicago Department of Environment. That number will continue to grow, fueled by city grants of up to $5,000 to help with green roof installations.
In addition to financial incentives, some companies are making promotions or bonuses contingent on meeting specific environmental goals. Setting clear goals can help influence and change mindsets about sustainability, says co-author Winston, who is founder of Winston Eco-Strategies, a consulting firm that helps companies use environmental thinking to profit. For example, when DuPont learned in the 1980s that it was the No. 1 polluter in the country, the company created tough goals like “zero waste” to change behavior and drive a new way of thinking.
For most businesses, the incentive is pretty simple. “It’s not just a community or environmental issue,” Winston says, “it’s a business issue.” In “Green to Gold,” the authors write, “Why are the world’s biggest, toughest, most profit-seeking companies talking about the environment now? Simply put, because they have to. The forces coming to bear on companies are real and growing. Almost without exception, industry groups are facing an unavoidable new array of environmentally driven issues.”
In Chicago, the city is keeping green in the forefront through incentive programs and education. At Chicago’s Center for Green Technology — which received the nation’s first LEED platinum rating for a rehabilitated municipal building — the city offers “Green Tech U,” featuring more than 150 free or low-cost courses for professionals and the public about sustainability.
To create an eco-mindset, an organization has to think in terms “far broader than just what happens in the factory gates and understand that payoffs may be both tangible and intangible,” Winston says. Environmental thinking needs to be part of every strategic decision, he says, and viewed as a long-term issue.
For those who ask, “How can we afford to go green?” Chicago’s Merritt says his department answers with, “How can you afford not to?”
Businesses are seeing not only the escalating costs of natural resources, but the costs in terms of keeping stakeholders happy.
The design industry is in many ways “ahead of the pace” in sustainability. “If a company doesn’t talk about its next building being green, it’s not in the game anymore,” Winston says.
It’s not about waiting for “100 percent proof that your LEED building has delivered ROI.” Instead, Winston says, business leaders that have “gone green” talk about a different ROI. “They ask themselves, ‘What are my grandkids going to think if I don’t?’”