Faculty Spotlight

Earth Day 2019: A Sustainable Leader

April 22, 2019 by Helen Eckmann, Ed.D.

It must have been happier days when Tina Turner sang, “We don’t need another hero, we just need to know the way home.” Because now, as the 2019 Earth Day is approaching, I believe we could use a hero.

I’m not looking for a hero to save me (enter Katy Perry’s “Roar”). I would instead like our students to have some examples how of those with authority and power make decisions with profit, people and the planet in mind. I would like to see men and women in authority behave with dignity, act ethically and consider the long-term consequences of their actions. I would like to see more people in power demonstrate less self-aggrandizing and puffery and show more concern for others. Chief executive officers who further the mission and values of their companies show consistency between words and actions, which is a hallmark of leadership.

In business school, we are looking for people who lead with profit in mind, but not profit that comes at the expense of the planet or people (employees, suppliers and/or customers). In business school we teach it is equally important to support the mission and values of the organization as it is to be financial accountable. Being ethical with money includes the principle of not spending more than we make and following the long-term wisdom of saving and investment. We also teach students that having one fiscal quarter of phenomenal profit at the cost of the environment may not be worth it.

We occasionally highlight business leadership which demonstrates consistency and values that also show a balance between profit, planet and people. Recent actions by Rose Macario, CEO of Patagonia outdoor clothing company, shows she is my 2019 Earth Day Hero.

Patagonia saved $10 million because of the current president’s administration’s tax cuts for corporations, which dropped the corporate tax rate from 35% to 21% beginning in 2018. Macario decided not to follow the trend of some CEO’s of giving token one-time bonuses to employees or making themselves richer by buying more shares of company stock. She chose to follow the mission and values of Patagonia, as described on its website:

As the climate crisis deepens, we see a potential, even probable end to such moments, and so we’re fighting to save them. We donate our time, services and at least 1 percent of our sales to help hundreds of grassroots organizations all over the world so that they can remain vigilant and protect what’s irreplaceable. At the same time, we know that we risk saving a tree only to lose the forest—a livable planet. As the loss of biodiversity, arable soils, coral reefs and fresh water all accelerate, we are doing our best to address the causes, and not just symptoms, of global warming.

Staying true to our core values during forty-plus years in business has helped us create a company we're proud to run and work for. To stay in business for at least forty more, we must defend the place we all call home.”

"Instead of putting the money back into our business, we’re responding by putting $10 million back into the planet. Our home planet needs it more than we do,” Marcaro said. Patagonia is dividing the $10 million among "groups committed to protecting air, land and water and finding solutions to the climate crisis."

According to USA Today, Marcario called the GOP- and Trump-backed tax cuts "irresponsible" and stated the current administrations past political responses to climate change as "woefully inadequate." Patagonia took the $10 million that was saved in the current administration’s tax breaks and put the money into efforts fighting climate change even though the current administration is, at best, ambivalent about this environmental concern.

Patagonia, thinking long term, used the savings in taxes to invest in even more sustainable practices. These new investments in the planet are in addition to a program Patagonia started in 1985 called One Percent to the Planet,” whereby the company donates one percent of its sales (not profits) each year to "preservation and restoration of the natural environment.”

Of course, as a privately held company, Patagonia has more elbow room than a publicly held one. Patagonia is politically active, and yet this private company reportedly has grown to over $1 billion in sales. Marcario is not afraid to use her influence. She persuaded more than 400 companies, including Walmart, Tyson Foods, and Lyft, to follow Patagonia’s “Time to Vote” campaign which gives employees time off from work to vote.

Patagonia depends upon having an outdoors that customers want to inhabit. This hero stays true to her company’s mission and values, and uses her power and authority to authentically fight for people, planet as well as profit.

Eckmann_HelenHelen Eckmann, Ed.D., is an associate professor in the School of Business and Professional Studies who specializes in strategies, innovations and supply chain.


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