It seems like every week I get a request from someone at Sun who wants to join our Eco Responsibility team. I used to just explain that we didn’t have any positions open, but then I realized that we were missing a huge opportunity. These are employees with passion for sustainability and a deep knowledge of their part of the company. Why aren’t we taking advantage of this great combination?
So our new answer is “The Eco Responsibility team isn’t hiring right now, but you already have an Eco job!” This is usually followed by a lively discussion of how they can take their unique knowledge and everyday interactions with our business and apply their passion to the job they already have. So far, the response has been very positive, and we’re now proactively driving this message throughout the company.
You might be saying “Well, that’s a neat trick for keeping people from bugging you about jobs,” but its actually fundamental to our Eco approach.
First, there’s the practical issue of keeping our Eco function from becoming too large. A lot has been written about the need for central leadership in driving corporate sustainability, and I agree with it. But large, central, non-business functions eventually run into trouble in enterprises. Being small and teaming business functions is the right model.
Second, there are some programs that you can drive top down, but a lot of the opportunities are best discovered and driven from the bottom up by the people who actually understand how things work. At Sun, we’re seeing real innovation in everything from procurement, to chip design, to IT, to travel administration. Much of this would never have been conceived or driven from the top down. Sometimes my team helps out with resources or executive air cover, and we certainly want to keep track of the successes and spread the word. But there’s no way the Eco team understands the details of the whole business well enough to see all the best opportunities or solutions.
Finally, this approach is connecting people much more closely to the company and its environmental values. When people understand that they can take the skills and knowledge that they already have and combine them with a passion for sustainability, things really start falling into place. What’s more, employees don’t have to switch jobs to feel like they’re giving something back, which can add a renewed sense of purpose to the job they already have.
So if you design chips, boards or power supplies, show us how much more efficient our products can be. If you work in facilities, let’s drive down our energy costs. Purchasing? How can we reward suppliers that are trying to be more sustainable. Finance and management? Support and encourage energy efficiency projects that make business sense.
What about me? Well it looks like my work here is done, so maybe I’ll get to take Earth Day off this year! (Yeah, right!)
Dave Douglas is Vice President of Eco Responsibility at Sun Microsystems.