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From Theory Toward Action - Sustainable Enterprise Certificate

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In the beginning, there was 'profit,' and it was good.
Then came 'planet.' We're taking strides in the right direction.
But what about the final, oft-neglected, leg of the 'sustainability' stool: people?

Surely there's more to achieving this third of the solution than establishing living wages, safe working conditions, and fairness in the workplace.

So goes the logic of the Sustainable Enterprise Certificate (SEC), launched in 2009 to bolster the 'people' part of the triple bottom line. This isn't a program about 'the technical aspects of environmental conservation' or 'green operational practices,' this is about fostering social well-being and collaboration to convert stakeholders into avid, vocal supporters. The program aims to help participants gain a fresh perspective by answering a key question:   "How can we achieve lasting, sustainable progress without the full engagement of the people involved and affected?"

The fundamentals of a paradigm shift

Participants begin with an introduction to System Dynamics; the study of the underlying behavior patterns and systems responsible for everything from the price of organic apples at the store to traffic jams in Seattle. By taking a step back to map out the relevant causes and effects of a specific problem, participants acquire a more nuanced and comprehensive approach to developing enduring solutions. Participants are encouraged to look past the 'tip' of the iceberg-problem floating in plain view, and to peer down into the murky depths for root issues. In the context of an enterprise, this approach demands deep introspection and authentic conversation, but promises the alignment and consensus that make sustained progress possible. Once participants explore system dynamics through a problem of their choice, they build on their learning with an examination of social equity.

Chilean biologist-turned-philosopher Humberto Maturana earned great renown for highlighting the importance of love in all collaborative situations. Not limited to the concept of romantic love, SEC participants learn about the power of love as 'recognizing the other as legitimate.' The reasoning: employees who feel heard at work tend to be more creative, loyal and engaged than those who feel marginalized. "Sustainable change can't be driven," declares Anne Murray Allen, director of the Executive Development Center. "We ought to dispense with the traditional, mechanistic language of 'driving change,' and embrace the potential of shared meaning as a way to achieve superior performance and expanded social well-being." As the culmination of their experience, SEC participants apply this knowledge to their career paths.

From conversation to collaboration

In the final session, participants review how the SEC's principles have been applied in the real world, and then tailor their final assignment to a current challenge. To receive their certificate, they must compose a plan that identifies the measurable strategies, specific tasks and individual collaborators needed to complete their goal. For some participants, this project aligns with a challenge in the workplace. For others, the action plan serves as a springboard for a new project.

Although participants come from diverse professional backgrounds — from public utilities to not-for-profits to multinational corporations — they all emerge with the capacity and energy to effect change in their respective organizations. When they need support, inspiration or an objective perspective, they can always turn to the growing, close-knit community of SEC peers .

With this platform of support, we hope our graduates will profit while helping the planet.

-Mike Russell

Darcy Winslow, director of the SEC program and former Nike executive, leads a discussion during the 2011 session.Darcy Winslow, director of the SEC program and former Nike executive, leads a discussion during the 2011 session.