Lately, the mythical silver bullet for our ailing economy has taken on an emerald hue. While “green jobs” have been heralded as a source of employment, the true complexities of “eco” are just starting to take shape. As you read this, the outdoor apparel and footwear industry is in the midst of a major collaboration to measure, define, and refine each stage of the design, manufacturing, and delivery process. The result –and consequential shift- promises to affect every job in the industry, including yours.
Amidst growing skepticism from green washing, and after a generation of scattered, but well-meaning attempts around the world, the Outdoor Industry Association’s Eco-Index is establishing a framework to measure and analyze concretely a product’s impact from cradle to grave. By establishing a common language, providing supporting tools, and seeding with the right questions, the Index will enrich internal dialogue and strengthen the business case for environmentally responsible decisions. A consumer-facing component is still under consideration.
Recently, I asked Jamie Bainbridge –Director of Textile Development, and Sustainability at NAU, and long-time member of the Eco Index’s advisory council- about the motivation behind the project, now in its beta phase. “Sustainability is one of the most chameleon components of business today,” Jamie told me. “What is ‘fact’ one day changes a year later. Instead of black and white answers, manufacturers have to navigate a series of trade-offs and judgments.”
As to the Index’s impact on individual job descriptions; “Rather than creating an entirely new department to tackle these questions, I think the future of sustainability lies in its integration into every existing position. For example, the shipping department will tackle the logistics piece; the people in charge of manufacturer relationships will approach opportunities in the facility. Everyone will integrate these questions into his or her responsibilities.”
The sweet smell of opportunity.
The proactive executive who embraces this change ahead of the curve will tap an enormous opportunity. If you want to be credible and marketable after this initiative comes on line, you need to take action now.
Convinced of the opportunity, but concerned that your higher-ups aren’t? According to Darcy Winslow, a major change-agent at Nike in the 90s, “It’s great if you have leaders’ buy-in, but you don’t need them to initiate change. If you want to start the conversation that will progress into positive, responsible decisions, you have to draw a direct connection with the bottom line. For example, greater efficiencies in facilities can be your first point of dollar savings: greener tech and production can save money. That’s how we started at Nike.”
Winslow –now the Director of Willamette University’s Sustainable Enterprise Certificate– says “You have to be able to see the entire system. Substituting eco-friendly materials is just the first step. It’s when you step back and look at the systems – the whole design of the product through to the supply chain- that you get into a re-design capable of incredible change.”
Some companies already require hiring candidates to have real-world education or experience in this field. Executives who want to remain competitive are actively sharpening their skill sets. That’s why you’re seeing more programs like the Sustainable Enterprise Certificate.
One final thought:
Since the Index has had so many companies contribute to its development (75 at last count), it’s very likely that it will drive the direction of the industry. In fact, many ‘outsiders’ are also participating; I wouldn’t be surprised to see the process –once completed- adopted by many different consumer product industries. One more reason to get involved early.
How should executives ‘get on board’?
1-Jamie Bainbridge: “There are number of experts in sustainability and environmental sciences, but few that mix it well with business. To get started, learn about the Eco Index. How will it relate to your current work and your professional aspirations? Find ways to incorporate it into your job, even if it is not yet an expectation.”
2-Darcy Winslow: “Earn the Sustainable Enterprise Certificate. Of the many options out there, this program’s beauty lies in its quality and brevity. We teach systems thinking, how to shift your business and engage others in collaboration through the best leverage points.”
If you’re confronting these questions in your current position, please share your thoughts and experience.
What are you doing to keep up with this industry shift?
Recruiters and HR readers: How are you evaluating candidate’s eco competencies during the hiring process?
Executives: How are you developing you knowledge of sustainability?