What did you learn on the CSBP trip to Seattle?
Well, to sum it up:
It’s ok to not give customers a choice, problem solving need not result in an answer, utilize the word “opportunity” whenever possible, even non-tree huggers can green their business, tapping into behavior is important, big companies have the capacity to do big things, and it doesn’t need to be “either-or.”
Our trip started and ended with a train ride from Eugene to Seattle and back again- by far the best way to travel. Once we arrived, we checked into our hotel and dropped off our bags so we could head over to our first visit of the trip – Safeco Field.
The VP of Operations, Scott Jenkins, gave us an overview of many of the sustainability initiatives the field has undertaken from LED lighting retrofits to smart monitoring of the grow lights for the grass to an 81% diversion of waste from the landfill. When asked how they managed such a huge reduction the answer was simple, don’t give people a choice. Safeco Field has a lot of influence over what their vendors serve food on/in and was able to switch completely to compostables. As far as the consumer buy-in and understanding, well, they just took out the trashcans and left the compost and recycling bins – why complicate things? For more on our visit to Safeco, check out the post from esteemed CSBP colleague and baseball nut, Andrew White.
On the second day we woke up early to get ready for our trips to Microsoft, Alaska Airlines, and Costco. At Microsoft, Rob Bernard, Chief Environmental Strategist, and Josh Henretig, Director of MARCOM, described to us the beginning of their sustainability initiatives as “well intentioned chaos” and went on to explain the importance of frameworks. Microsoft strives to solve problems in an effort to demonstrate how problems can be solved – their goal is to provide scalable, leveragable solutions, not one-hit wonders.
Alaska Airlines gave us a chance to explore the insides of a plane and learn that even a self-admitted non-green company can make substantial improvements to their carbon footprint. Jacqueline Drumheller taught us the key steps she took in leading change from the middle, some of which were: don’t ask for permission, tackle the metrics, relentless communication, and use the word “opportunity” all the time.
Costco, our final stop of the day, left us feeling a bit differently than our previous meetings. Costco has been participating in cost reduction activities that have been successful both financially and environmentally. Their “sustainability” program is really a set of fortuitous outcomes from their business practices and the company shows minimal interest in trying to educate or promote more sustainable decisions to their consumers (consumers who consume and consume by their very nature). Yet, even a company with no warm and fuzzy tree-hugger-world-saving image is still having a positive impact. Whether it’s about feeling good or about the bottom line, there is still a case for sustainability. When it really comes down to it, that’s what we’re in school to learn about: how to make the case for each and every business – how to speak their language.
Day three started with McKinstry, an innovative consulting/engineering/building firm where Hendrik Van Hemert, an Oregon MBA alumni, stressed the importance of fitting sustainability into each individual client’s business in ways that make sense. Turns out President Obama is also a fan, for more check out CSBPer and former Seattleite Andy Fenstermacher’s post on McKinstry. We also toured their shop and production facilities and were able to get a glimpse of innovative building practices – by building in the warehouse and then inserting finished “components” (which are really the guts of the building) at the work site the company is able to a) make a better product (due to the controlled environment) and b) reduce its waste through reuse and recycling.
Next stop was Starbucks, arguably the most engaging meeting of the trip. Jim Hanna, the Director of Environmental Impact, invited us to bring any questions, and more importantly criticisms, right out into the open, framing this meeting as an equal opportunity for us to learn from Starbucks and also for Starbucks to learn from us. The company’s goal is to use their scale for good and outlined some of their initiatives from their C.A.F.E practices which reward coffee farmers for sustainable farming to an entire lighting retrofit throughout the entire U.S. store base. And of course, we couldn’t leave without talking about the cups. Well good news, they’re working on it, but from a society-wide systems approach and not a “let’s throw some compostables out there that will end up in the trash anyways but at least we look good” standpoint.
Our last visit of the trip was to REI to learn about their successful initiatives and ambitious goals. For a company whose very nature is to value the outdoors it seems sustainability is a no-brainer. While some of their initiatives are more readily accomplished as their employees and clientele do not need much convincing, the company has still had to navigate its way through frameworks, metrics and measurements to set goals that are truly impactful to their business. One important point that Kevin Hagen made to us is that sustainability does not need to be a trade off between doing what’s right and doing what’s advantageous financially- ‘it doesn’t have to be an “either-or,” it can be an “and.”’
We wrapped up the trip with the opening game of the Seattle Mariners right back at Safeco Field where we started and had the opportunity to see their efforts in action.
So, it was just another few days at the OMBA participating in an experiential learning excursion to visit with chief managers of some of the top companies in the nation. What does your MBA program offer??
– Shannon Oliver, CSBP Class of 2013
Our second day in Seattle started off with a trip to McKinstry, located in the city’s SODO industrial neighborhood. McKinstry is one of those companies that is difficult to summarize in a simple sentence. They describe themselves as a “full-service design, build, operate and maintain (DBOM) firm.” In other words, they do just about everything that pertains to buildings. The 1,600 people that work at McKinstry comprise a unique mixture of people not often seen in a single company – engineers, strategists, skilled laborers, and others working together under one roof (though, in reality, the company is so large it has quite a few roofs on its campus).
The core of McKinstry’s work focuses on building systems and energy-related issues. During our visit we learned that McKinstry made a strategic decision to diversify its capabilities in order to adapt to market cycles and external economic conditions. When the construction industry is highly active, the company provides design services for major projects and manufacturers HVAC systems. When the market cools down, McKinstry helps its clients plan for future projects or improve the efficiency of their existing buildings.
During our visit we were hosted by Henrik Van Hemert, a 2011 alumnus of the Oregon CSBP program. Henrik shared how he ended up at McKinstry after completing his degree and what it has been like to work in a company largely dominated by engineers, laborers, and other non-MBAs. It served as a good reminder that our freshly acquired business skills can be valuable in just about any context and that we shouldn’t be afraid to cast our job-search nets widely.
The name McKinstry may sound familiar to some. During the 2008 presidential campaign, then-candidate Obama visited the company and mentioned their energy work in one of his ads:
– Andy Fenstermacher, CSBP Class of 2012
During our recent trip to Seattle, we had the opportunity to visit SafeCo Field, the home of Major League Baseball’s Seattle Mariners, an organization committed to sustainable operations, as evidenced by their decision to become a charter member of the Green Sports Alliance. Scott Jenkins, the Vice President of Operations, was our host for the afternoon, and gave us a fantastic tour of the stadium. While he was guiding us through the owners’ suite and the visitors’ dugout and clubhouse, Scott shared with us some of his insights regarding sustainability and operating such a large facility. One of the most important lessons I took from that tour (besides the fact that the center field wall looks a lot farther from home plate at field level) was the vital importance of communication when it comes to sustainability initiatives. Repeatedly, Scott told explained development and told stories that hinged critically on being able to communicate effectively to various stakeholder groups both upstream and downstream.
When tackling waste reduction goals, the Mariners needed to gain cooperation from vendors, employees, and customers in order to make sure that everything worked out according to plan. As a large client, Scott and his team were able to convince vendors that they needed to provide biodegradable and recyclable product offerings at SafeCo. But what if employees and customers don’t understand what the organization is trying to do, and those new products end up going to the landfill anyway? To solve this challenge, Scott took a more passive approach. Compliance with newly implemented waste reduction programs was achieved by merely relabeling collection areas. For employees, the former trash room became the recycling center, prominently displayed by a poster on the wall. For customers attending the game, trash barrels were removed, and replaced with recycling containers and compost bins. There are only 17 containers at SafeCo now for “trash”, and they are labeled “Landfill”, to remind game-goers what the results of their actions entail.
Although the Mariners have been successful in implementing waste diversion and other sustainability initiatives in the ballpark, it hasn’t always been easy for Scott. He continually stressed the importance of speaking “the same language” when discussing capital investments with his superiors in the organization. As always with any expenditures, you must communicate the business case for the cash outlay. By focusing initially on easily introduced projects with fast paybacks, Scott was able to earn the trust of those above him, and eventually work towards additional sustainable improvements that seem more difficult to finance (such as a small photovoltaic array on top of the stadium’s parking garage).
Overall, the trip to SafeCo was truly a valuable experience that highlighted the importance of communicating on proper terms with various stakeholders… and also allowed some of us to live out our childhood dreams of sitting in a big league dugout with our friends and a bag of sunflower seeds on a sunny afternoon.
– Andrew White, CSBP class of 2013