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Perspectives on Continuous Improvement in Corporate Sustainability

My company recently announced that it achieved a set of aggressive five-year global environmental goals a year ahead of schedule, as part of our Go Green commitment made in 2008.

We met or exceeded our goals of reducing water use, waste-to-landfill and carbon emissions by 25 percent each since 2007 levels, while revenues rose 12 percent in the same period. According to publicly available company data and the Carbon Disclosure Project, Lockheed Martin is leading major aerospace and defense companies– and many other large industrial manufacturers – in hitting these environmental performance targets.

So how can other corporations achieve similar successes when it comes to similar elements of corporate sustainability? It starts with a mindset of continuous improvement, and our experience highlighted important principles worth consideration.

You can’t manage what you don’t measure. Developing defined, realistic benchmarks and strategies – whether to reduce carbon emissions, conserve water, reduce waste to landfills or other eco-conscious pursuits – rallies the workforce and prevents agenda tinkering at the top. Organizations that take consistent steps over time to reach specific sustainability goals often experience long-term operational savings. When everyone is aware of common goals, it also helps to accelerate a deeper understanding of how the complete supply chain contributes to overall environmental sustainability performance.

Another bright spot: smart IT planning. Reduce the number of data servers to minimize electricity costs and free up office space—two elements of efficiency that go beyond a traditional web hosting scenario planning. For example, in 2011 Lockheed Martin consolidated 43 percent of its company’s data servers, resulting in $2.6 million in annual cost savings. Greening IT is an effective method for achieving results and also for promoting sustainability and at the same time, leveraging a company’s potential through innovative solutions.

A third tip is to partner with company suppliers to “green the supply chain” and reduce environmental impacts in many areas, which can also focus on impacts caused by excess packaging and waste. For example, we achieved cost savings and reduced wood packaging through a new partnership with an aeronautics supplier that redesigned shipping crates.

Involving employees in sustainability efforts offers them a channel to make a difference. Creating a “go green” culture where employees take steps to reduce their own environmental impact helps lead to overall corporate sustainability success. For example, just by encouraging employees to take simple steps, such as turning off lights or computer screens when not in use, companies can generate energy savings and help achieve sustainability goals.

When you grow a business sustainably, you don’t see a finish line. With every achievement, you learn new ways to continuously improve your environmental performance.  This is a virtuous cycle that with appropriate focus delivers multifaceted returns on investment to companies of all sizes—and inherently benefits generations to come.

Carol Cala is the Corporate Vice President of Energy, Environment, Safety and Health (ESH) for Lockheed Martin Corporation. Carol oversees the ESH organization that sets ESH corporate policies and direction. She evaluates the Corporation’s ESH performance and provides leadership in establishing initiatives to improve corporate-wide performance; this includes Lockheed Martin positions on emerging regulatory and legislative ESH issues, and the Corporation’s interface with public stakeholders on ESH issues. More information about Lockheed Martin’s commitment to corporate sustainability is available at www.lockheedmartin.com/csr2011.

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4 thoughts on “Perspectives on Continuous Improvement in Corporate Sustainability

  1. You are dead-on on these points. Particularly on the idea of greening the supply chain: it can work for any type of business, big or small, high-tech or low-tech.

  2. I would be interested to learn more about whether (and how) you position Lockheed’s overall business as a net contributor to sustainability. Tactically green, yes, but strategically sustainable, not sure. As a vet I have seen the ‘environmental impact’ of this whole industry at the other end of the range. It’s on me to read and learn more, but it does not pass the ‘smell’ test for me, and I know one clean-tech entrepreneur who left the industry because he could not rationalize his eco-ethos with the overall end mission of his industry. Interesting to note that the military and DoD lead the way in some cases for more efficient energy usage … lots of innovation can go into getting more creative about how to destroy things!

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