Waste is a necessary evil with our existence and needs to be managed to ensure us a civilised living. The process of waste management is not straight forward and today the way we do it may in fact define our economic system as with recycling economy, circular economics, etc. Waste management companies in Sri Lanka are a rarity as many do not consider this area as important. That there is a need as well as an opportunity in this area is missed within the private sector community.
It was a birthday celebration with a difference for Geocycle on 22 March. As a primary waste management service provider, it has achieved a 10-year milestone and a meaningful celebration was held with a conference and an awareness session for CEOs.
Another concept entered into the Sri Lankan environmental lexicon due to discussions during the CEO Forum – Green Hat CEOs! A simple Google search did not give me any prior use of the concept in this manner. The Geo Responsibility awards of Geocycle are already known and part of the environmental event compendium of the country.
The concept Geo responsibility is not a simple combination of two words but carries with it a deeper meaning of one who will consider being truly responsible for the land that nurture the person and everyone else. Respecting where your roots sprout but not taking all for yourself is indeed being a true son of the soil in the current context when all parts air, water, soil, etc., are under stress from a hyperactive man on earth. If the Geo responsibility was TLC of your eco system then the Green Hat CEO embodies those who will be in charge of such action. Can such a caring CEO with an ecological passion be successful, survive in the boardroom and deliver value for money to shareholders, etc.?
Today when scanning the global economic performances of companies, one can see that company turnovers can easily make some national economies the state of minnows. This is certainly true for Sri Lanka with an economy around US$ 51 billion. Companies like Wal-Mart will rank among the top 10 if companies and nations are considered together with turnover and GDP as individual performance measures for these entities.
In the top 100 of the same list companies are crowding out countries today and the world truly becoming a corporate world may not be too far away! The simple lesson is what companies do is becoming more important than what countries may wish and hope to achieve via policies and action plans.
For a president of a small pacific island nation such as Kiribati, the only hope is to stand at a UN Podium and tell the world that “I refuse to believe that any individual with a conscience would deliberately continue on a business as usual path knowing that their actions would result in the demise of others.” Anote Tong, the President of Kiribati who stated these words, must have looked around towards the faces of other fellow world leaders to observe empathy registered on their faces hoping that they have understood the plight of his small island nation.
Maldivians did differently by holding a cabinet meeting under water saying business as usual elsewhere may mean that for all meetings for them the only place available to them may be below sea level if the world fails to act. For all such expressions, both active and passive, the world is moving on and pursuing the consumption agenda ever so strongly. The curve that suggests danger the annual global emission of carbon dioxide is not showing any signs of a downward movement. Hence the importance of capturing the CEO’s attention and changing course. National leadership may be irrelevant. Easier said than done one can say but this is one big hope and a mission that needs attention. Make a paradigm shift with CEOs and half of the job is done.
I am not sure whether those all who promised to attend did attend the event of Geocycle. That too is a commitment indicator as far as being willing to listen as the topic was known. It is not easy to engage the top with this message especially when the concept involves changing from within and working with a wider group away from an area someone can easily say is not their core area.
We are also seeing the traditional business environment becoming tighter and CEOs naturally find answers to those first and do not necessarily view paradigm shifts to see them through. On the other hand, I always think if all should work within their core areas forever after defining whatever they are to be, then Azim Premji of WIPRO should still be selling vegetable oil.
Time for change
Definitely, a shift in what we think and do as CEOs may need to happen. The change is possible when one understands being environmentally responsible make better business sense today than yesterday!
Once the DuPont CEO openly stated that the three letters stand for Chief Environmental Officer, heralding a radical shift top down. As we know DuPont did not go down as a result of such outlandish statements but fared better and gained more green mileage with the populace. All such developments are important and if it is possible for a global organisation it is certainly possible for a national organisation be it small or big.
With such ideals one may find that growing outside island boundaries are possible as you are more with paradigms of the future. Some of the global organisations were not saints to start as such but they were quick to understand it is better to be with such thinking than to fight on with old set of principles. They were able to shift hats and gears quickly and emerge stronger.
For a Sri Lankan CEO just hearing the new world view, the transition need not be so difficult. What you gain by practicing under these circumstances is to thrive out of the crisis. This path is open to public sector institutions of Sri Lanka such as CEB, CPC too as they too have CEOs whose actions do impact on the forward path.
Green Hat CEOs
Green Hat CEOs means coming together to agree on a set of principles going beyond the bottom line. He or she will have to have a strong bias for action based on concrete data and some action may have to come from atmospheric ppm value of carbon dioxide and not just share values.
Unlike De Bono’s Six Thinking Hats, this Green Hat has to sit for a longer time and meant for action subsequent to commitment. CEOs will take corporate footprint in its widest sense and ensure the footprint becomes lighter and they along with their organisations will tread lighter on earth. However the ensuing action would strengthen them and they should see growth with a human face.
Such companies with enlightened CEOs on top can support societal growth along socially too as they would ensure green and decent jobs within their organisations. They will use local energy sources and generate less waste. A more meaningful existence, surely.
Green Hat CEOs will look at much wider datasets than ROI. Extended thinking will always be a part of his or her portfolio. Generation of data to serve these needs means expanding the traditional set of measurements. The World Bank already publishes data over a wider template targeting such decision making and action such as valuation of bees pollination contribution. The push in these areas is only possible with the person at the top taking charge, becoming responsible, convincing others and then executing.
Sri Lankan State institutions have shown that it can take courageous decisions at times and execute them clinically. Similar examples are present with the private sector too. Sri Lanka leads the world in green certified factory settings in the apparel sector and is proud to push the label Garments without Guilt. It is time that new enterprises spring and the old embrace the new philosophies and become world class.
Sustainability, which is what is at the heart of a Green Hat CEO, can produce market leaders not just in your domain but elsewhere too. One may need to define the list of attributes, take a pledge on the list and be measured against for performance. All these steps await and as a birthday celebration of an initiative comes to an end, a new idea is born and this new seed now needs planting on our soil.
(The writer is Professor of Chemical and Process Engineering at the University of Moratuwa, Sri Lanka. With an initial BSc Chemical engineering Honours degree from Moratuwa, he proceeded to the University of Cambridge for his PhD. He is also the Director of UOM-Cargills Food Process Development Incubator at University of Moratuwa. He can be reached via email on firstname.lastname@example.org.)