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This Sustainable Life

274: Applying Leadership and the Environment in corporations

Ep. 274

This episode describes how I train corporate and institutional leaders in environmental leadership.

Here are the notes I read from:

  • Talking with more and more corporations lately, describing how I work with them
  • Putting it here for easy reference
  • You'll see among podcast guests many corporate and institutional people
  • Lorna Davis of Danone C-Suite
  • Dominic Barton 3-time Global Managing Director of McKinsey
  • Beth Comstock, former CMO of GE (when Fortune 5), on Board of Nike
  • Bob Langert, former Head of CSO at McDonalds
  • Vincent Stanley, Director of Patagonia, where he's worked since 1973 and professor at Yale School of Management
  • Tensie Whelan, Director of NYU-Stern's Center for Sustainability and Business, former President of Rainforest Alliance
  • Col. Everett Spain, West Point's Head of Leadership
  • Col. Mark Read, West Point's Head of Geologic Engineering
  • Marine Corp 3-star General Paul Van Riper
  • Michael Werner, Google's Lead for Circular Economy, formerly similar role at Apple
  • Gave two talks in 2019 at Google, another at Citi and other banks, IBM, Boston Consulting Group, Coca-Cola, Lululemon
  • John Lee Dumas, entrepreneur
  • Dov Baron, leadership guru
  • Marshall Goldsmith, Dorie Clark, Alisa Cohn, #1 coaches
  • Behind the scenes, developed a lot with coaching clients at McKinsey, Exxon-Mobil, Columbia Business School
  • Guest on, a staunchly pro-Trump site, which talked about me supportively on 3 consecutive episodes
  • Very business friendly because business can benefit from this
  • Most common response is: I thought it would cost money or take time but it saves money and time.
  • Most of all for the executives I work with, it replaces not knowing what to do when you have to act but fearing being called greenwashing or hypocritical
  • for the company, it boosts morale and gives a competitive advantage. Think of how Patagonia can charge a premium.

Context: most companies hear demand from customers, employees, shareholders, and media to be more sustainable.

  • Almost necessary for top talent. Patagonia doesn't have to advertise new positions. Exxon has to pay top dollar
  • Just today I talked to a guy who runs a business Exxon wanted to hire. He quoted them a high price because he didn't want to work with
  • them.
  • Action usually comes from junior employees. They're younger and face more of their lives with potential catastrophe and they've invested
  • less in old ways
  • Easy to think senior decision-makers can just change, after all everything points to acting
  • Decision-makers are often most vulnerable
  • We've all heard people and organizations called greenwashing and hypocritical
  • However well-meaning, accusations make choice for executives easier not to act and risk losing job or company value, even if they want to
  • act
  • They think they have to be perfect, an impossibly high bar
  • They only have to show they are doing their best, a lower bar, but they have to show they are doing it genuinely and authentically.
  • I enable this, as you can hear from the conversations with the executives I mentioned
  • For example, Yvon Chouinard of Patagonia behaves far from perfectly, but he hides nothing. As a result, people support him for his flaws
  • instead of attack, because they see themselves in him
  • If you act without sharing yourself, people judge your actions against perfection.
  • If you share yourself---that's what leaders do, they allow themselves to be vulnerable---then they support you
  • I've refined my technique over hundreds of projects with executives and leaders in business, politics, culture, eduction, military, etc
  • I will describe two parts: the building block, which I describe in more depth in my first TEDx talk, which describes the environmental leadership process with one person.
  • One person won't change a culture, so I'll describe the second part, which uses many building blocks to transform a corporation.

The Building Block

  • The building block is a 4-step process to ask what people care about, have them create a way to act on it, make it manageable, and add accountability, where they report how it went
  • It goes well and they want to share. They know that when they share what they care about people connect with it.
  • If their employees just heard, we're going to use less plastic, well that might mean they're trying to save money
  • If they hear their CEO sharing trying to do his or her best, they see him or her doing what they want to do themselves. By supporting the CEO, they support themselves. So they don't attack, they support.

Building corporate culture with the building block

  • Still the CEO is one person. I do the building block with a team including several executives and a few junior people who will implement the results.
  • We pick an audience to hear the recordings, which could be just the team if they're private, employees if their goal is mainly morale, clients if their goal is sales, the public if PR. The point is someone has to hear for accountability and to motivate depth, but the team chooses for its goals.
  • I do the building block with all ten people (could be half a dozen or a dozen). Most tasks take 2 weeks or a month
  • I meet with them in a month, ask how it went, how it affected them emotionally, their relationships.
  • They always learn. Then I do the building block again, this time restricting the task to in the office.
  • We meet again after they finish their second task. Now they've collectively done 20 tasks, the second usually bigger and more rewarding than first
  • Third meeting we meet as group for a half to full day exercise
  • Based on experience and teamwork, this exercise leads them to create a team exercise based on experience, that the company will implement, usually led by the two junior people who have been part of this engagement from the start
  • I don't know the company. I don't create the project. They do. I'm like a basketball coach. I don't put the ball in the hoop. The experienced people do.
  • I know how to lead individuals and a team to face and overcome the unique challenges of environmental leadership -- feelings of shame, guilt, helplessness, anxiety, futility, and so on.
  • When they bring to company a project, they aren't saying do as I say, not as I do. They're saying: hear my humanity and struggles. I did my best, grew to learn, and am sharing joy and discover with you. Community, connection.


  • I'll leave off here for now, but I wanted to share the professional, executive work I'm doing.
  • If corporations and governments aren't involved, we'll get almost nowhere.
  • I want to engage and activate them so they love acting, get competitive advantages, boost morale, attract talent, etc for acting more sustainably.
  • If they don't their competitors will, so why not enjoy it and act first?

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