If you’re like me (or at least the pre-business school version of me), the phrase “MBA student” brings to mind legions of ruthlessly driven young professionals hoping to become slick consultants, sleazy ad-men, and cutthroat executives. Harsh stereotypes, indeed, but not entirely unfounded. Until recently, many top MBA programs hammered home the principles of shareholder value maximization, while shirking substantive coursework on ethical and social responsibility. I decided to pursue my MBA so I could learn to apply business principles to social impact initiatives; before I arrived, I feared I’d be the only one.
Over a year later, my narrow presumptions have been shattered. Over a thousand MBA students have descended upon the Oregon Convention Center, many advocating for a reshaped business model that begins in business education and ends in Fortune 100 executive level suites. This Net Impact Conference is about more than changing behavior; it’s about changing the schemas under which we live and work. This isn’t about making the business case for sustainability; it’s about sustainability being good business.
Of course, if you’re reading this, you probably are familiar with the caliber of work Strategic Sustainability Consulting (SSC) does. Integral to this work is the quantification of sustainability initiatives. Yes, measures and metrics communicate strong values to the public, an essential component of CSR. But just as importantly, these scorecards give corporate decision makers and stakeholders throughout the supply chain a tangible, concrete illustration of the return on a sustainability investment.
SSC is at the forefront of this effort, so I made sure to attend a program session called “For Good Measure: How Innovative Scorecard Strategies are Changing Sustainability.” The panel was comprised of sustainability leaders from the US National Park Service, Walmart, and xpedx. Each talked about the challenges and opportunities associated with sustainability metrics. Much of the conversation focused on moving beyond the view that scorecards exist within silos.
Scorecards are more than measurements of waste or energy use; they are a means to integrate all employees into the sustainability effort. Rahul Raj, the director of sustainability at Walmart.com, said it best: “Scorecards start out with something simple…and then roll out through a multidisciplinary approach throughout the company. [We learned] that we need to look at these from multiple departments. How does that single act of reducing packaging affect multiple people throughout the organization? And who should be responsible for this?”
Additionally – and I promise I’m not making this up as a personal favor to SSC founder Jennifer Woofter – members of the panel agreed that scorecarding is not an endeavor to undertake by yourself initially. External professionals (like SSC!) are experts at overcoming obstacles such as scorecard fatigue, scope creep, and questions about what to measure. Every business is unique, so make sure to find a partner or consultant that will design a process that works best for you.
Earlier in the morning I had the opportunity to ask Sally Jewell, the President and CEO of REI, how her company uses its buyer and supplier power to mandate sustainability throughout its supply chain. She replied that customers are demanding these certifications and disclosures: “We partnered with Walmart, Target, JC Penny, and others to form an apparel association that accounts for around 50% of the apparel in the world, and now we’re all independently testing sustainability requirements in diverse products to find ways that will be most sustainable and effective in driving consumer buy-in.”
So what enables this effort? Scorecarding, of course!
Ari is a 2012 MBA Candidate at American University’s Kogod School of Business in Washington DC. He was SSC’s Marketing & Communication Intern last summer.