McDonald’s, AT&T, Hilton Execs Tell How To ‘Sell Sustainability’

by | Jul 25, 2012

Sustainability officers and managers at McDonald’s, Novelis, AT&T, DuPont, EMC and Hilton Worldwide, among others, say one of the keys to selling sustainability inside their companies is to communicate environmental issues in language business leaders understand – not sustainability jargon, according to a new report that surveyed more than 30 such leaders at both publicly and privately held companies.

VOX Global, Weinreb Group Sustainability Recruiting and the Net Impact Chapter at the University of California, Berkeley conducted the report, Making The Pitch: Selling Sustainability From Inside Corporate America, and found that selling sustainability is more about building relationships than than using green buzzwords.

At AT&T, for example, reducing the company’s carbon footprint wasn’t pitched to employees as “being the right thing to do,” or as a way of combating global warming. Instead, sustainability leaders sold it as a way to identify energy consumption and place limited resources in the areas that would produce the greatest savings. A study published earlier this month by Verdantix found AT&T leads the US sustainable telecoms market in customer offerings.

Sustainability leaders at McDonald’s say communication has played a dominant role in initiatives within the company, from establishing sustainable fish-sourcing a decade ago to its current efforts to phase out the use of gestation crates by its pork suppliers. The company did this by bringing in Dr. Temple Grandin, an animal welfare expert, who could explain the science to management, and who helped create the company’s animal welfare program.

The study identified three potential sustainability drivers — interpersonal skills, ability to quantify the value of an initiative and subject matter expertise — and asked respondents, primarily Fortune 100 companies, to evaluate the importance of each. It found that prior to taking their job, nearly three quarters (78 percent) of sustainability executives thought subject matter expertise was the most important factor to be successful. After being on the job, however, 100 percent said interpersonal skills were the most important factor.

And respondents agreed senior executive buy-in is important — 78 percent said support from top management is vital, and 81 percent said collaborating with colleagues and co-workers at all levels of the company it key to integrating sustainability throughout their organizations (see chartshowing the groups that sustainability execs feel are most important to influence in order to accomplish sustainability initiatives). This finding is even more significant given the fact that respondents have little to no management authority over these colleagues inside their companies.

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