Caring for the environment makes good business sense

The time of the harvest of fruit trees was so important in our ancient homeland that Tu B'Shevat, which we celebrate on Monday, was designated as one of the Jewish calendar's New Year days. It seems it was clearer to our tribal people than it is to us how inseparable the environment is from our daily activities.

So why is it today — when the daily activities of so many are within office buildings — that the natural environment is far from the daily focus of most boardrooms? I think it's because most managers assume wrongly that the environment is not related to quarterly profits.

Fortunately, however, managers at some of today's leading corporations — including Intel, Sony, Horizon Organic Dairy, IBM and Louisiana-Pacific — realize that taking positive environmental steps has everything to do with quarterly profits. That is the subject of my book, "Lean and Green: Profit for Your Workplace and the Environment."

*Texas Instruments, for example, recycles 81 percent of nonhazardous solid waste in its U.S. operations (and 75 percent worldwide), which saves $23 million worth of water and energy, not to mention saving trees and reducing landfill. The company spends $160 million on manufacturing resources each quarter; the environmental programs are designed to optimize the company's resources by at least 10 percent, to save at least $16 million each quarter. Actually, its environmental achievement at this writing has exceeded the 10 percent target.

*French television-maker Thomson Multimedia's worldwide environmental projects yield the company $12.5 million each year through cost avoidance, cost savings and revenue generation. Waste reclamation and glass recycling (from TV CRTs) contribute the most toward that $12.5 million. By reducing the consumption of electricity, fuel and gas, in Europe alone, Thomson Multimedia saves $2.8 million.

*At Compaq, Walt Rosenberg, the director of corporate environmental affairs, says that "even 1 percent cost savings [through recycling] is motivational…because pennies count when multiplied by millions of units. The mindset is 'every single cent.' A reusable transport pallet saves $5 per unit; this becomes a fundamental business benefit."

*Apple Computer gains $1 million per year from recycling and Philips Semiconuctor earns millions of dollars from marketing "green" products (such as its popular GreenChip).

The key to getting the corporate world to focus on a safer, cleaner environment is to link environmental steps not with "tree-hugging" or threats, but with increased revenues and reduced expenses leading to enhanced quarterly and annual profit. No one drives this point harder than Rosenberg at Compaq.

"This isn't a touchy-feely area. It's good for business. We are not telling our senior vice presidents that environmental steps are good for the world, the right thing to do for our grandchildren," Rosenberg said, rolling his eyes. "I'd get thrown out. They would respond with, 'You're right, it's nice. Bye-bye.'"

So even if the corporate world is not yet ready to give employees a day off to taste and celebrate each of four species of fruits and nuts, corporate executives are ready to turn around the economy, reduce expenses and increase sales. This is being accomplished every day by lean and green champions worldwide. Isn't it about time your corporation took significant environmental steps? Use Tu B'Shevat as a reminder to yourself to take or encourage these four steps at your organization:

*Question wasteful practices and create steps to benefit profit and planet. Get people in your organization to think creatively. For the most dramatic benefits, encourage them to think about steps that can be taken before waste is created.

*Gain endorsement for environmental ideas using business language. Make your points with profit in mind – starting with strategies that yield the highest rewards to profit and planet.

*Collaborate throughout the organization to meet environmental goals. If you can, start at the top of the organization to obtain a commitment, and then adopt environmental practices elsewhere in the organization.

*Measure your organization's progress, and strive continuously to improve. Make sure that the steps your organization is taking are truly healthful both for planet and for profit, and keep raising the bar.