In answering questions for this issue’s article on GA Pet Food Partners’ new environmentally friendly facility, David Bennison, GA’s sales director, makes a strong case for conferring with all stakeholders when launching a sustainability initiative. “In order to develop a long-term plan, you need to consult comprehensively with all employees, suppliers, customers and local residents to ensure the proposals meet their concerns and give confidence that the business is truly sustainable,” he says.
Bennison’s comments hit home with me, and not just because I strongly believe that companies should pursue sustainability to improve their businesses as well as the part of the planet that they inhabit or affect. You see, I live with a teen green warrior. My 17-year-old daughter is not literally green, but she is so passionate about ecology and the environment that she decided to major in environmental science in college when she was just a high school sophomore.
Besides proudly wearing the “tree hugger” label, Emily is also a very dedicated student, so she immediately started researching colleges and universities known for their ecology curricula as well as for practicing what they preach in terms of their own energy usage, waste reduction, food sourcing and the like. (She found several schools from reviews on a site called, yes, TreeHugger.com.) At that time, she was looking strictly at the science side of it and, as people her age often do, had a very idealistic, black-and-white view of the subject. (As in, “We’re destroying our planet. Why can’t everyone see that?”)
Then, in her junior year of high school, she started taking an Advanced Placement class in environmental science. Now, a semester-and-a-half into it, she stated during a recent college visit that she wants to study not just science but also humanities—cultural, economic and social issues—in this case, how people, businesses, communities and governments connect with the environment and the study of it.
It turns out that these connections are a big part of the curriculum in her high school class, in both the textbook and class discussions. In addition, she is a board member of the school’s environmental club (the Green Eagles, naturally) and in that role has started learning how to interact with parents, faculty and staff of her school along with the local business community to raise funds and awareness.
Emily is still idealistic about the environment—her dad and I have become almost numb to the constant nagging about using too much plastic, generating too much waste, not composting, etc.—but I’m glad she’s starting to see that passion and idealism alone will usually not convert minds or hearts. Progress or change never happens in a vacuum or even among those with the same exact beliefs. If you want to effect change, you have to figure out who the stakeholders are that can make it happen and understand their needs and motivations.
That means tree huggers need to work with corporations and the business community. The more environmentalists can show businesses how green practices are good for their bottom lines, the more likely companies will be to pursue sustainability.
And vice versa: The more companies like GA can show they care about the planet they inhabit as much as they do their profit margins, the more success they will find. After all, my daughter is not the only green warrior among her generation of consumers.