AHESC 2014 | Yalmaz Siddiqui of Office Depot Provides Insights on Sustainability and Green Teams

March 12, 2014 by

ImageWe are gearing up for the inaugural Arizona Higher Education Sustainability Conference taking place in Tucson, AZ at the University of Arizona and could not be more excited to have Yalmaz Siddiqui of Office Depot as the closing Keynote. Siddiqui is responsible for setting strategic direction and integrating a wide range of environmental programs into the global organization. Office Depot’s industry-leading environmental programs span all parts of the company – from supply chain (buying green) to internal operations (being green), to business and consumer markets (selling green).

AHESC: Office Depot was ranked as the#1 greenest large retailer in America by Newsweek Magazine’s Annual Green Rankings in 2011. That is a huge accomplishment as a company that serves consumers in 59 countries and has over 2,200 retail stores. At this type of scale how do you integrate sustainability into Office Depot’s core business functions? What strategies are most efficient and successfully shared with employees working in over 2,200 stores to drive the positive impact?

YS: The key is to understand what the role of the environmental team is versus the rest of the organization. At Office Depot we’ve avoided creating a ‘green ghetto’ by helping our functional partners recognize that just because it’s ‘green’, it doesn’t mean it’s owned by the green team.

We’re still not fully there yet, but the most important strategy is to get buy-in and budget allocation for green initiatives through more functions and at more levels of hierarchy in the company.

Making the business case in terms of cost savings and customer interest has also been a major part of our success.

AHESC: Since Office Depot launched and implemented corporate environmental initiatives such as the environmental paper procurement policy and carbon emission reduction efforts, what significant correlations you have seen in the company’s triple bottom line? How are the customers and stakeholders reacting to Office Depot’s environmental initiatives?

YS: Both customers and the wider set of stakeholders have responded very well. We focus our efforts on ideas that deliver both an environmental benefit and economic benefit – so the correlation is significant, but that is by design.

AHESC: You’ve been with Office Depot since 2006 and have led Office Depot to #1 greenest large retailer in America for three consecutive years. What advice can you give to colleges students who will be entering workforce this summer and who are interested in the field of sustainability such as yours?

YS: Remember that green teams and sustainability in organizations are small and will remain small for years to come. So while you are of course free to pursue a role that is 100% dedicated to sustainability, organizations need more people with an interest in the subject – in core functions such as marketing, finance, purchasing, H.R., sales, customer service and beyond. So my advice is to think about the core function you’re most interested in, and bring your sustainability passion to that role.

Ready to find out more about best sustainable practices and implement materials into your business or university? Be sure to check out resources from Office Depot, including the Top 20 ways to Go Green at Work and the GreenerOffice section of their website!

About The Arizona Higher Education Sustainability Conference


The Arizona Higher Education Sustainability Conference (AHESC) is the first conference to bring together Arizona universities, colleges, and community colleges in one place to focus on sustainability issues distinct to Arizona and the Southwest region. AHESC is designed to inspire, inform, and create engagement opportunities for students, faculty, staff and administrators working or studying in higher education institutions across Arizona to advance sustainability solutions on campuses and in the regional community.

We hope you will join us Monday and Tuesday, March 24-25, 2014 at The University of Arizona in Tucson, Arizona for AHESC 2014!


Social Enterprises, Inc. Joins Ranks of Oregon Benefit Corporations and Becomes a Certified B Corporation!

February 12, 2014 by

PrintWe are proud to announce that we have gained certification as a B Corporation and officially changed our legal corporate status to a Benefit Corporation.

What is a Certified B Corporation?

B Corporations are a new kind of business that uses the power of business to solve social and environmental problems.

After a lengthy process 3rd party, B Lab, verified signed and stamped that we have worked hard to achieve a higher level of social and environmental performance, transparency and accountability.

We are joining over 900 businesses worldwide where we are not only competing to be the best in the world, but FOR the world.


Social Enterprises was founded in order to give organizations generating important change on the frontiers of sustainability and social impact an affordable and professional resource to execute events that support their ongoing work.

With the Benefit Corporation framework, we are able to hold ourselves accountable to the same standards we recommend to our clients and assure our stakeholders that we mean business when it comes to implementing the triple bottom line across all aspects of our enterprise.

Not only is sustainability the focus in the events we plan, it’s also the aim of how we take care of our employers, contractors, sponsors, community, and of course the environment.

We are proud and incredibly grateful to be recognized for the work we have done for the community and the environment. We are excited to represent B Lab’s mission and be a part of the B Corporation movement!


WAHESC 2014 | PSU’s Jennifer Allen Digs into Sustainability in Academics

January 22, 2014 by

Jennifer AllenYou won’t want to miss this keynote address by Jennifer Allen, February 7th during The Washington Higher Education Sustainability Conference. With areas of expertise in environmental and natural resource policy and administration and sustainable economic development,  Jennifer Allen is an associate professor of Public Administration and director of the Institute for Sustainable Solutions at Portland State University. Her areas of research encompass environmental and natural resource policy and administration and sustainable economic development, with particular focus on green buildings and rural-urban market connections.

WAHESC: As an educator and a researcher, you are serving on several boards for many sustainable and environmental conservation organizations. What are the gaps or disconnects between the academic and businesses in terms of carbon emission reduction, natural resources development and green economy growth?

Jennifer Allen: One of the main challenges to linking academic and business communities is the frequent “disconnect” in terms of timeframe and organizational rhythms; specifically, academic terms will rarely be aligned well with the needs of other organizations for research or support.  In addition, faculty have their own research agendas and may be reluctant to shape these around what organizations need or adapt them with an eye toward economic growth—even if that growth is “green.”

We also lack effective channels for the private sector to share their research needs with academics, and the converse is also true: We lack good channels to share academic work—in a non-academic, more accessible vocabulary—with the private sector.

WAHESC: To bridge those gaps, what are your recommendations and ideas on how private sectors and academics can collaborate to lead sustainability initiatives and build healthy environments on campuses and in communities?

JA: One of the most important things we can do to bridge this divide is to build stronger relationships, mutual understanding, and trust between the community and the university.  One of the ways we are attempting to do this at PSU is through our “Research to Action” event series. We host themed symposia—on topics such as urban sustainability, social determinants of health, and ecosystem services—and invite faculty and community partners to share their ongoing work in clustered 5 minute “blasts”, followed by opportunities for dialogue and partnership-building.  This approach distills PSU’s research activities and the community’s research needs into digestible “bites” and presents them in an accessible format, allowing for give and take discussion between practitioners and researchers.

PSU is also actively engaged with the business community in the area of social entrepreneurship; in our Impact Entrepreneurs program, social enterprise professionals, nonprofits, students and community members work together to “unleash the power of business for social impact”.  One of the most powerful aspects of this program is that it creates an innovation space where academic assets and strategic business thinking come together to address critical social issues.

WAHESC: What leadership role should academics play in environmental stewardship that can effectively influence public policy, sustainable economic development and climate change solution innovation beyond the ivory tower?

JA: Because of their nature as educational and research institutions, universities have the opportunity to serve as respected and effective “conveners” around challenging topics, providing a platform and forum where complex issues can be constructively explored.  For example, PSU’s Institute for Sustainable Solutions has supported research by PSU faculty on the implications of a carbon tax for the State of Oregon, and has provided a number of opportunities for dialogue about the findings of this research. Oregon Solutions is another program at PSU that provides a neutral forum to help partners come together to address challenging community issues.

Another important role for universities is to identify and analyze “best practices” related to sustainability challenges to better understand what works, what doesn’t, and how solutions need adapt to reflect particular organizational or geographical contexts. For example, I’ve done some work in the area of green chemistry, looking at what other states are doing to advance the adoption of safer alternatives to toxic chemicals. In particular we focused on what strategies could help businesses realize a competitive advantage from developing and adopting safer alternatives. Another approach that will resonate with this conference’s audience is to explore how we can make our campus operations “living laboratories” where innovative sustainability strategies are tested and shared—ideally in collaboration with other public and private sector partners.

Finally, institutions of higher education need to be more intentional in developing the leaders of the future: our students. We can do this by providing them with opportunities—both inside and outside the classroom —to grapple with complicated issues, engage with diverse partners from both the public and private sectors, and bring their best and most innovative thinking to develop solutions to the challenges we face and the challenges we don’t yet recognize. This is perhaps the most critical role we can play. I’m excited to learn more about what other colleges and universities are doing on this front and in other areas at the Washington Higher Education Sustainability Conference.

About The Washington Higher Education Sustainability Conference

The Washington Higher Education Sustainability Conference (WAHESC) is a regionally-focused opportunity for those teaching, working or studying within higher education to come together and learn about sustainability in academics, operations, and research. Through facilitated conversation, workshops, presentations and networking opportunities, participants will play a role in advancing environmental performance at Washington State institutions of higher education, support regional policy goals and initiatives, and drive the development of a generation of professionals for whom sustainability is a core tenet of their work and life philosophy.

We hope you will join us Thursday and Friday, February 6-7, 2014 at Western Washington University in Bellingham, Washington for WAHESC 2014!

WAHESC 2014 | An Inside Look with Keynote Nancy Lord

January 15, 2014 by

Nancy LordWith the Washington Higher Education Sustainability Conference right around the corner, we jumped at the opportunity to interview one this years Keynote speakers: Nancy Lord, Author, Early Warming: Crisis and Response in the Climate-Changed North. In our Q+A, Nancy shares her observations on the real impacts of climate change and where we should put of our focus concerning solutions as well as a preview of her keynote address taking place on February 6th.

WAHESC: What was the one thing in particular related to the environment and human relations that surprised you while writing Early Warming: Crisis and Response in the Climate-Changed North?

Nancy Lord: I don’t know that anything particularly surprised me, but a couple of things definitely impressed me.  Much of my research involved Native communities in Alaska where climate change is clearly present and acknowledged.  I discovered that there’s so much change happening—not just environmental but social and economic—that it’s difficult to isolate climate change from the rest.  For example, where people are trying to grow their own food and are implementing alternative energy projects—these are definitely related to climate change but also to the high cost of importing food and fuel.

And a second thing that became very clear to me was that global warming/climate change issues are really human rights issues.  The people suffering the most are most often those who’ve contributed the least to the problem.  There are basic human rights to life, health, subsistence, and not to be forcibly evicted from homes and homelands.  Many coastal Alaskans—not to mention people in other low-lying parts of the world—are being forced to relocate because of climate change.

WAHESC: How does global warming affect the livelihood of fishermen, indigenous people and beyond in Alaska that is normally overlooked by mass media coverage and climate change studies?

NL: The media tends to focus on extreme cases, such as communities flooding.  When the immediate event is over, they move on to the next and the problem disappears from public attention while still being acute to the people affected.  Climate change studies have historically focused on science, which sometimes seems abstract or futuristic.  More recently, studies have been increasingly directed to social aspects and adaptation—with more focus on people and communities.

Global warming is neither abstract nor only a future threat—it’s here and now, very much endangering the lives and livelihoods of people.  If we begin to consider the costs of not addressing it, the costs of mitigation seem much more reasonable.

WAHESC: As an active leading member of several conservation and community-building organizations in Alaska, how do you advocate climate change awareness that reaches beyond the choir?

NL: That is indeed the challenge—to reach those who are not engaged or who are even active skeptics.  We need more environmental education, more science literacy, more attention to the real costs and the effects on people’s lives.  In Alaska, we’ve found that just about everyone has attachments to salmon, so that’s a good rallying point.  People want salmon to be healthy and plentiful—not dying in overly warm streams or starving in the oceans because the food web is upset by acidification or full of mercury from coal burning.

WAHESC: Based on your first hand experience of seeing the threats of the global warming to fresh water resources and marine lives in the North, how can humans change our interaction with environment and what climate change adaptation strategies we can implement to slow down these effects?

NL: This is a big question.  We’re rapidly getting to the point where, regardless of what we do, we’re facing a disastrous situation.  We need a tremendous movement, right now, to avert the worst.  The change needs to happen at all levels—personal up to international.  It’s hard to see how we can achieve some stability without putting a price on carbon—a tax or however you want to design it, but something that will quickly and dramatically reduce emissions and move us into a more sustainable future.  Adaptation doesn’t address the problem but only helps cope with it.  We can adapt to coastal flooding, for example, by building seawalls, but that’s a temporary and costly strategy that doesn’t reduce emissions and warming—in fact, transporting rocks, making concrete, and so on just adds to the problem.

WAHESC: At this important first annual event, please tell us a little about what your Keynote will address at WAHESC. How do you hope to enlighten WAHESC attendees?

NL: In my keynote I’ll try to make the case for why we need to move toward a more sustainable way of life overall, why we need sweeping cultural change.  I come from a place that can provide lessons from both sides of the equation.  In the north, we’re experiencing climate change sooner and more dramatically than in places farther south;  thus, we can demonstrate some of what’s at stake if we, as Americans and citizens of the world, don’t move quickly to more sustainable practices.  And on the other side, I come from a place with intact Native cultures that have sustained themselves for hundreds and thousands of years.  I’ll share some stories for how and what we might learn from them.

About The Washington Higher Education Sustainability Conference

The Washington Higher Education Sustainability Conference (WAHESC) is a regionally-focused opportunity for those teaching, working or studying within higher education to come together and learn about sustainability in academics, operations, and research. Through facilitated conversation, workshops, presentations and networking opportunities, participants will play a role in advancing environmental performance at Washington State institutions of higher education, support regional policy goals and initiatives, and drive the development of a generation of professionals for whom sustainability is a core tenet of their work and life philosophy.

We hope you will join us Thursday and Friday, February 6-7, 2014 at Western Washington University in Bellingham, Washington for WAHESC 2014!

Digging Into the Force Behind the GoGreen Conference Series

September 5, 2013 by

Ericka_AboutWho is Social Enterprises, and what do you do? We are asked that question quite often in our line of work. Our founder & principal Ericka Dickey-Nelson had the opportunity to have a radio interview with Mrs. Greens World to discuss who we are as an organization and why we love doing it!

Ericka is the founding force behind Social Enterprises, Inc. — a full-service event planning firm specializing in conferences and summits with a sustainability or social impact focus. Working from a passion for bringing people together around ideas that will shape the future, she has built a formidable expertise in executing events that drive revenue to support the growth and continued success of non-profits, government programs, and educational institutions. In 2008, Ericka co-founded the GoGreen Conference series in Portland with the intent of holding a much needed dialogue on how regional stakeholders can collaborate to create sustainable economies at scale through the adoption of green business solutions at their own organizations. The series has since expanded and is now also held annually in Seattle, Phoenix and New York City.

Mrs.GreensWorldListen to the full radio show here:

GoGreen Conferences – the force behind the idea!

Energize 2013

May 29, 2013 by

On April 11 and 12, the first annual Energize 2013 Summit — hosted by the Energy Commercialization Center (ECC) — brought together diverse and influential stakeholders from the sustainable energy community of the Rocky Mountain West. Energize 2013 was an invite-only summit offering a rare gathering of key regional players from all areas of the innovation ecosystem to help influence the growth of the sustainable, carbon-free energy economy throughout Utah, Colorado, Arizona, New Mexico, Nevada, Idaho, Montana and Wyoming.

As Energize 2013 was a first year event, we needed to create an event logo and identity. Working with the ECC, we developed a distinct, modern event identity highlighting their identity rooted in the Rocky Mountain West.


Event Highlights

  1. The inaugural Energize Summit attracted a mix of stakeholders throughout the Rocky Mountain Region & was well attended across sectors
  2. Speakers engaged beyond their session contributions, staying throughout the day and creating stronger eco-system buy-in, networking and idea-exchange
  3. The Ecosystem Development Track discussion was lively, engaging and reached real and meaningful conclusions
  4. Energize 2013 built lasting dialogue and connections in the Mountain West around sustainable energy where there previously were none – and demonstrated commitment and fortitude to drive the sustainable energy economy

View select photos from the 2013 event below. A full portfolio of images is available here, courtesy of Great Salt Lake Event Photography.

The Oregon Higher Education Sustainability Conference (OHESC)

March 13, 2013 by

The Oregon Higher Education Sustainability Conference (formerly the Oregon University System Sustainability Conference) concluded on February 1, 2013 at Portland State University’s Smith Memorial Student Union. Co-Hosted by Portland State University, Oregon State University and Oregon University System, OHESC is a platform to facilitate information sharing, networking, and collaboration related to innovative sustainability practice and research among Oregon’s higher education institutions. The conference featured two days of workshops, plenary discussions, and peer-to-peer learning for professionals, faculty, and students serving in a variety of roles around sustainability in Oregon’s campuses.

Given that the conference was being renamed, we were contracted to develop an event logo and identity. Care was taken to develop a distinct, modern brand highlighting OHESC’s identity rooted in the state of Oregon, higher education and collaborative endeavors.


From an event management perspective, below are a few of the many successful aspects of the conference:

  • VENUE: Smith Memorial Student Union –  The layout of space was good, accommodating exhibitors, student summit and all breakout sessions on one floor.
  • AUDIO VISUAL: PSU AV – The equipment was excellent quality and offered at a very low cost,  along with responsive and proactive technicians.
  • CATERING: Aramark – The food quality was amazing, especially the custom lunch with the local vendors. We received many positive comments from organizers and attendees and the use of real dishes and glassware contributed to the value of a sustainable event.
  • REGISTRATION: The registration process ran smoothly with help from volunteer and dedicated SE staff onsite and the check-in rate was extremely high at 88%
Attendee feedback:
  • “Staff were able to answer all questions and never seemed unable to find the information we were looking for.”
  • “Professional and very supportive” “The event team was phenomenal!”
  • “Friendly, efficient staff. Passionate attendees, great mission. Good food.”

View select photos from the 2013 event below. A full portfolio of images is available here, courtesy of Andrew Paul Photography.

Within Our Reach Conference: A Great Ending to a Successful 2012

December 28, 2012 by

The 2nd Biennial Within Our Reach Conference concluded on December 12, 2012 at Oregon State University’s CH2M Hill Alumni Center in Corvallis, Oregon. Presented by the Meyer Memorial Trust and the Oregon Watershed Enhancement Board Within Our Reach is a two-day conference designed to connect funders, river restoration professionals, landowners, public agencies, scientists and students across the basin who are working to protect and restore the health of the Willamette River.

As the event managers of the conference we had a great time coordinating and assisting such a dedicated group of people working toward the same goals. The experience started December 10th at Oregon State Universities LaSells Stewart Center for a special pre-conference screening of Willamette Through Film. The following two days of the conference turned out spectacularly with three inspiring keynotes, seven plenaries + reports and nine informative break-out sessions.

On the technical side of things one of our favorite logistical aspects of this event was the OSU venue. Between the LaSells Stewart Center and the CH2M Hill Alumni Center, the facility provided everything that we needed and then some. The staff, AV technicians, and catering team were all on their game and definitely left us with a great impression.

The conference was filled with liveliness, great connections and lasting conversations; check out the photos from the conference below.

The EcoDistricts Summit 2012

November 14, 2012 by

The second annual EcoDistricts Summit came to a close just under a month ago on October 26, 2012 at Portland State University’s Smith Center. Produced by the Portland Sustainability Institute (PoSI) the Summit is one of the world’s leading conferences dedicated to urban and district-scale sustainability exploring topics such as district energy, water utilities, net-zero buildings, smart grid, networked transportation, urban ecosystem services and zero waste. We had a fantastic time working behind the scenes and assisting in the execution of this year’s summit. Check out the action from the Summit and keep your eye out for EcoDistricts 2013!

2012 Sustainable Opportunities Summit: Mark Gasta on Moving People To Embrace Sustainability

January 5, 2012 by

Marka Gasta

You don’t get to be Chief People Officer without a keen understanding of what motivates us as human beings. Vail Resorts’ CPO, Mark Gasta, works to uncover our drivers as professionals and to create behavior change that not only benefits us as people, but supports the bottom line and sustainability as well. In our Q+A, Mark shares his expert insights on moving people to embrace sustainability with dramatic results.

GoGreen: A lot of talk around sustainability for business focuses on efficiency and systems. What about the people? Where does the human element factor in and how important is it in the grand scheme of things?
Mark Gasta: Businesses are a system, and all of these factors play together. So if we are thinking about the environmental system, or other pieces of the system, and not paying attention to the human aspects of it, ultimately it won’t be sustainable. The system will become imbalanced.

In order to create organizations that do both well and good, we have to ensure the entire system is taken into consideration and that all intersections are tended to. Then we can maintain our profit margins, while also accomplishing our mission as an organization in the community. None of the elements in the system are mutually exclusive. When we drive shareholder value, we not only give that value to them, but we can then reinvest in our employees, our guest experience, our communities and environments–all are inextricably linked.

GG: From the human resources perspective, is sustainability a selling point for recruiting talent and retention rates?

MG: It is an incredibly strong selling point, because people want to feel good about the organization they work for. People want to understand how their efforts can contribute to a larger purpose. It doesn’t matter if the employee is coming just because they love the sport (in our case) and want to be a part of that sport. The stronger that connection is, the more they want to share this sport with others and share nature with others.

Its been proven through research that when people spend time in nature, it makes them want to protect it more and has a positive impact on their own personal values. You can build out that value chain and connect people with those higher purposes—and it doesn’t matter really what that higher purpose is as long as it’s greater than just showing up and punching the clock.

From this perspective, sustainability first creates greater success for the organization, but also results in greater engagement and satisfaction for the people working there. Getting back to the recruiting piece of it, when someone is contemplating their life and dreaming up how are they going to make a difference, they want to be part of something bigger. Sustainability helps us show that we can easily draw out their potential to have a very positive impact in the areas they care about.

GG: You also work with students in higher education. Are you seeing a greater tendency from this next generation of employees to place a higher value on sustainability?
MG: Oh, without a doubt. It’s on the minds of many kids coming through school right now. And that’s very refreshing and exciting. I read an article about a recent Harvard Business School graduating MBA class that had over 50% of its members sign a pledge that they would never work for an organization that did harm and that they would only work for organizations that did good.

People are looking for something more in their career. In the past, it took a catastrophe or something negative to cause people to be reflective and ask, “how am I going to make a difference” or “am I going to look back on my life knowing that I lived the life of purpose?” Today, I think those values are being engrained in us earlier on. Maybe it’s parents, maybe it’s technology giving people a better world view—but whatever the cause, it’s a good thing.

GG: What are your thoughts on where the responsibility should lie for succeeding at sustainability? Should it be with a green team or the sustainability officers or the executive team?
MG: The primary responsibility should not lie with a sustainability officer or green team. Now, should those parties be the conduit of educating others and providing tools and resources to help people understand how to drive and support green efforts – absolutely. But the reason I say no is because my goal is to make sustainability obsolete. Sustainability should be woven into the fabric of the culture and just be part of the business planning process. We should do it not because it’s going to result in altruistic successes, but instead because it’s the right thing to do for the business.

The beautiful thing about sustainability is that the pure definition of it is “be around to live another day.” If you’re not around to live another day, from a business standpoint you’re going to fail. If you want your business to be successful in the long-term, you have to ensure you build it in a sustainable way—which means paying attention and finding the balance for all of those key stakeholders. That includes not taking more than you give, as it relates to the environment, and ensuring you are not doing harm. Both can come back to bite you through brand reputation or negative aspects of compliance. That is the minimum expectation. From there companies have a unique opportunity to competitively differentiate themselves by becoming sustainability leaders and actually enhancing their surroundings.

Because it’s the right thing to do from a business perspective, the ultimate responsibility lies with an organization’s leaders. When they fully understand sustainability, they will see it meshes with the philosophy that wise decisions are those that consider the long-term viability of a company over short-term gains—and that short-term thinking ultimately does not result in a lasting success.

GG: How accountable do you think employees should be towards achieving the overall success of those strategic decisions and those goals?
MG: I think of it a little differently. I don’t think about holding employees accountable, so much as figuring out how we can inspire them to the chase the possibilities, Most people don’t wake up saying, “I want to destroy the earth today” or “I want to do things wrong today.” The responsibility lies with the folks who are leading this charge. They need to drive education, communication, and empowerment. It’s about helping people see how can they make a bigger difference, what their role is and their potential for aligning with a higher purpose.

We also need to create access to those paths and show how our teams can do all of this within their particular role. Every single person has the ability to make a positive difference . So, it’s not about holding employees accountable, it’s about inspiring them to be a part of something greater – which they naturally already want to do, in my estimation.

GG: Have you seen unintended consequences of a positive nature in other areas of your organization that have arisen from your sustainability efforts?
MG: Absolutely. It is all connected. I’ll go back to what we talked about earlier—that it’s all one system and you have to factor in all aspects of the system in order to create a sustainable organization. For example, as we work on employee engagement, many people may not immediately translate that as part of building a sustainable company. But taking care of the most foundational opportunities for employees allows them to become interested in things that create greater value-adds for the company overall.

When we do a regression analysis on our employee engagement scores, we see that the greatest driver in our company—the biggest difference we can make in further engaging our employees—is around sustainability. Our employees want to know how they can further influence our company’s work in the community and the environment, so we have been focusing on how to tie sustainability and employee engagement together.

As a result, we have never seen greater success as it relates to things like our guest satisfaction scores. This greater engagement we’ve fostered is resulting in higher guest satisfaction and it’s directly related to our efforts to help employees understand how our company makes a difference, and how they can personally contribute to our sustainability initiatives.

GG: What kind of organizational change is usually necessary to succeed at creating this very integrated system? What are the most common shifts needed or trends that you see?
MG: I think the greatest challenge for most of us is learning how to operate outside our silos. It’s easy to get stuck in them because that’s what we have control over. Thinking outside of those lines can be overwhelming. Be it a business unit or a department or a location – people are worried about themselves. They are not worried about everyone else.

Going back to the HR, many departments will plan their own strategy for the coming year, but how often do entire organizations bring the planning to a shared platform? Very few make that leap and even fewer take the more important step of looking across the full matrix to find points of integration and collaboration. But unless we look across all of those disparate agendas to ensure we have cross-coordinated our efforts in order to move forward together, we will always have the possibility that things will get out of balance. For example, you might have the greatest learning and development team in the world, but if your compensation and benefits programs are not competitive – you’re going to fail.

The key is to regularly look across the matrix and coordinate agendas at every level within the organization. If any aspect gets out of balance, you are going to stop moving forward and it is not a sustainable long-term solution.

GG: What would you say is the biggest barrier you’ve run up against in maintaining balance? How did you surpass it?
MG: Working outside silos is an on-going challenge. It’s hard and that ‘s why people don’t do it very often. It is easier for me to close my door and just worry about my work. If you take a collaborative approach, now I have to worry about everyone else’s work and how it fits together to create systems that are mutually supportive. Constant communication is required, as is a true commitment to a shared vision.

A very simple example: if my CEO came in right now and asked me to create a frontline bonus program for employees, I could close my door, pull up old documents of other frontline bonus programs created over time and come out in a few hours with a sixty page document that is a perfect frontline bonus program on paper. But would that be successful or would it fail?

It would fail, because I failed to ask a lot of questions that require looking outside of my own silo. What technologies are necessary to pay these bonuses and measure these successes? Are the measures I put within the program driving the right behaviors to lead to the right outcomes? Have we communicated to employees how they will be rewarded based on the desired behaviors and why that’s important to the overall success of the business? Have we trained leaders to help connect this rewards program with the outcomes we want? On and on and on—you can begin to see all the systemic interconnections in just that one example. Unless I work with all of those constituents—unless I coordinate across that matrix—the program won’t be successful.

GG: OK, lightning round (:30 or less!).

1. Best book you’ve read that’s not about sustainability, but totally applies to it?
MG: “How Then, Shall We Live” by Wayne Muller

2. What’s the worst great idea you’ve put in place and turned out to be a flop? How would you make it better the next time around?

MG: We have what we call “Street Teams” in our organization. Traditionally Street Teams are a group of people that go out before a band hits the city and do things like chalk the sidewalks and post posters all around to gain excitement around the bands coming in to town. We have established street teams at all of our resorts and the idea is that they are the voice of our employee population—they are owning and fostering a culture around the environment and engaging our workforce further. We are utilizing them for outward communication and to gather information. It is a great idea, but it’s really hard to implement, organize, and to keep it alive, plus figure out how to fully leverage it. So, I still believe that it is a great idea—but it is certainly not optimized and it is a constant struggle to keep going.

3. The number one concept you drill into your students’ and employee’s heads about sustainability?
MG: Find and live your passion. You want to be able look back on your life and feel fulfilled in it. That is defined differently for each of us, but in order to do that we have to understand ourselves—what we believe, what’s important to us, what are we good at, what we like and dislike, what gives us energy. Once you find those answers and live them daily, success will result personally and professionally.

4. What’s one piece of advice you would give to an organization just getting started on a sustainability strategy?
MG: Help your people understand the potential of sustainability—that it is not just altruistic, but it allows you to do the right thing and make smart business decisions.

5. One piece of advice you would give to an organization ready to take things up a notch?
MG: Similarly, when you help your team see the greater potential in sustainability, you will have the foundation set to reach new heights. Again, I think it is about education, empowerment and making sure you are speaking to the triggers of your audience.

Mark Gasta is the Chief People Officer and a sustainability advocate at Vail Resorts Management Company. He is also a featured speaker at the 2012 Sustainable Opportunities Summit and share insights on driving sustainability via behavioral and organizational change with attendees, March 21 in Denver, Colorado. Learn more about the Summit at: sosummit.org.