Heroes of Sustainability: Bob Willard

Bob Willard, Corporate Straight Shooter

 Some people talk the talk about sustainability — Bob Willard talks it, walks it, and drives it (he has two hybrid vehicles). A longtime businessman, Willard spent 34 years at IBM Canada before becoming a leading expert on corporate sustainability.

 With three books under his belt – The Sustainability Advantage (2002), The Next Sustainability Wave (2005), and The Sustainability Champion’s Guidebook (2009) — Willard is among the best at laying out a clear, actionable plan for business leaders to follow in order to institute more-sustainable policies within their companies.

 “Sooner or later, there is a tough message that sustainability champions need to deliver to harried business leaders — the business game they are playing can’t continue,” Willard writes. “It’s been fun, but if they keep playing the game the way they are, everyone will lose.”

 Delivering that tough message is what Willard has made his mission, and to support it, he’s developed hundreds of keynote presentations, numerous webinars, two DVDs, and a Master Slide Set to drive home the point that if we want to have clean air, potable water, nutritious food, and adequate shelter, something has to change in the way corporations do business — and fast.

 Willard’s talent is in quantifying and selling the business value of corporate sustainability strategies to CEOs and other C-level personnel. “Executives might think you are trying to convince them that sustainability is a nobler goal than contending with gnarly business issues like complexity, resource scarcity, and talent shortages,” Willard writes. “It’s sometimes better to back off and reframe sustainability strategies as enablers of executives’ priorities, rather than as another nagging goal to worry about.”

 To communicate effectively, Willard uses sales techniques widely successful in business: He talks the language of the decision-makers, meets them where they are, and makes the connection between what they’re already doing and what they could be doing. He has a personal commitment to sustainability, having been turned on to the importance of the issue when, after plans surfaced in his community to build a water treatment plant downstream from a nuclear power plant, he realized that those in charge weren’t looking out for the well-being of the community members. Since then, environmental issues and taking personal responsibility for making a difference have been at the forefront of his life and work. But even those who haven’t caught the sustainability bug the way Willard has would do well to follow the advice he lays out. “The bottom-line payoff comes from increased revenue, innovation, and productivity, as well as risk-mitigation and eco-efficiency cost-savings,” he writes.

 For more information about Bob Willard, visit www.sustainabilityadvantage.com, and read an excerpt from The Sustainability Advantage here.

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Heroes of Sustainability: Paul Hawken

Only One Bus:  The Story of Paul Hawken

The list of what Paul Hawken hasn’t done is probably shorter than the list of what he has.

Book author? Check. He’s got six of them. Magazine writer? Yep — his credits include the Boston Globe, Harvard Business Review, and Mother Jones. He’s also been on the Today show, Larry King Live, and Talk of the Nation, and he’s been presented with seven honorary degrees. Oh, and business owner? He’s got several under his belt.

A Lifelong Commitment

Since age 20, Hawken has had one overarching focus: sustainability and changing the relationship between business and the environment. His long résumé includes founding ecological businesses, educating others about the impact of commerce on living systems, and consulting with governments and corporations on economic development, industrial ecology, and environmental policy.

Part of what makes Hawken stand out is that he doesn’t play it safe. He’s traveled throughout insurgent-held territories of Burma to study tropical teak deforestation, and he took a trip in 1999 to war-torn Kosovo and Macedonia. Back at home, he worked with Martin Luther King Jr.’s staff in Selma, Alabama, in 1965, leading up to the historic march to Montgomery. That same year, Hawken was in New Orleans as a staff photographer for the Congress of Racial Equality, focusing on voter registration drives in Louisiana and the panhandle of Florida, and photographing the Ku Klux Klan in Meridian, Mississippi, after three civil rights workers were tortured and killed. These pursuits, of course, weren’t without risks — Hawken was seized by KKK members, but was able to escape with the help of the FBI.

Will Social Justice Meet Environmental Justice?

This social justice work is intertwined with his environmental goals. “What is most harmful resides within us, the accumulated wounds of the past, the sorrow, shame, deceit, and ignominy shared by every culture, passed down to every person, as surely as DNA, a history of violence, and greed,” Hawken writes in his 2007 book Blessed Unrest. “There is no question that the environmental movement is critical to our survival. Our house is literally burning, and it is only logical that environmentalists expect the social justice movement to get on the environmental bus. But it is the other way around; the only way we are going to put out the fire is to get on the social justice bus and heal our wounds, because in the end, there is only one bus.”

Respect and Achievements

Hawken’s research and views are respected by world leaders far and wide. Case in point: During the Battle in Seattle in 1999, President Bill Clinton called Hawken for advice, and has said his book Natural Capitalism: Creating the Next Industrial Revolution is one of the five most important books in the world today.

On the business front, Hawken has founded several companies that rely solely on sustainable agricultural methods. His 1987 book Growing a Business became the basis of a widely viewed 17-part PBS series he hosted and produced that explored the challenges of starting and operating socially responsible companies. Today, he’s head of OneSun LLC, an energy company focused on low-cost solar power, and Highwater Global, an equity fund that invests in companies providing solutions to environmental and social challenges.

His many activities are a lot to fit in a day, but Hawken wouldn’t have it any other way. “My hopefulness about the resilience of human nature is matched by the gravity of our environmental and social condition,” he writes.

To learn more about Hawken, visit his website at www.paulhawken.com.

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