Author, Nathan Springer's passion and profession is building better business through sustainability. As a professional, he measures and communicates benefits of sustainability in business. Currently he consults to financial services companies on generating returns from sustainability with Malk Sustainability Partners. He advised Dow Chemical on market and green potential of bio-based materials, identified growth and conservation opportunities for water-based industries in Oregon, and designed strategy that helped Owens Corning develop new energy efficiency products. Previously he worked nearly 8 years in marketing and stakeholder relations.
Nathan holds an MBA and MS in Natural Resources from the Erb Institute for Global Sustainable Enterprise at the University of Michigan. He lives on the West Coast and often hikes or enjoys a great hole-in-the-wall restaurant with friends and colleagues. More at LinkedIn or Yelp.

ISSP Editor's Note: These articles were first published by GreenBiz and is reproduced here with the author’s amd GreenBiz’s permission. They chronicle in-depth the lessons from a course at the University of Michigan's Ross School of Business on how to become a social intrapreneur -- someone who makes change for good from within the enterprise taught in early 2012.

Article 1. How to Become a Social Intrapreneur
The fabled triple-bottom-line business is the epic quest of our profession. In the hallways of conferences, sustainability professionals gather around the coffee tables to tell legends of companies like Interface, Nike, and Walmart and the many others that have set out on this journey.
Many have heard the tale of Ray Anderson, who discovered Paul Hawkins' manuscript The Ecology of Commerce and carried his entire company toward the summit of Mt. Sustainability guided by sages Hunter Lovins, Amory Lovins, and Hawkins himself.
When the euphoria fades, most people return to the reality of Monday morning full of doubts and questions about whether they could take their company to the heroic heights of sustainable business.
Now, the Stephen M. Ross School of Business at the University of Michigan has invited me to follow a class on Social Intrapreneurship that aims to arm MBA students with the tools to do just that.
Management and Organizations Professor Jerry Davis and former student Chris White conceived of the class when they heard a cry from students and alumni for lessons to create social benefit in traditional roles. "We wanted to give practical tools and skills to students who wanted to make that difference from within a mainstream corporate job," says Davis.
The class features visits by intrapreneurs from IBM, Ford, SC Johnson, Target and other companies and draws from research on social movements to build a map for budding social intrapreneurs.
"The network analysis tools allow students to understand network structures in a way that would constitute a PhD thesis 15 years ago," Davis says. Students learn to see opportunities, map power networks within companies, and design strategy while applying their lessons to the immediate challenges faced by social intrapreneurs who visit the class.
The class was so popular in its first year that it is spreading to other business schools around the world. Davis and White are now working on a book.
While we can't all have a personal sustainability prophet or take the helm of a company, there is a growing field of internal social change experts. In 2004, the Stanford Social Innovation Review published an article by Debra E. Meyerson called "The Tempered Radicals: How employees push their companies -- little by little -- to be more socially responsible".
After 10 years researching and writing a book on the subject, Meyerson identified lessons from tempered radicals who push a social agenda within an established organization. The social intrapreneurship class teaches elements of Meyerson's suite of strategies that begin with building relationships, seizing opportunity, and defining an agenda.
SustainAbility calls the social intrapreneur a new species. In 2008, the sustainable business consultancy published a manual with Skoll Foundation, IDEO, and Allianz called "Social Intrapreneur: A field guide for corporate changemakers."
The free 72-page study of 20 change agents from companies as diverse as Dow Chemical and Morgan Stanley notes their defining characteristics, habitats, and approaches. "Their adept opposable minds exist to juggle dilemmas and catalyze new visions, products, services and solutions," states the guide.
More recently, FastCoExist featured an article last week that highlights the work of three intrapreneurs from Walmart, Autodesk, and Swiss Re participating in a program by the Aspen Institute to bring together and train social intrapreneurs.
Change agents. Tempered radicals. Social intrapreneurs. They go by many names, but you may know it best as agitator or rabble-rouser, because the work of social intrapreneurs is often met with resistance.
"We're introducing students to software for analyzing company language to position themselves appropriately and identify new opportunities," says Davis. Intrapreneurs are often themselves the lonely prophets of change and the first to identify transformations necessary to adapt to changing social and environmental conditions, so students will also learn new software to build relationships and organize within an enterprise.
You are probably a social intrapreneur if you relate to any of these situations. Over the next few weeks, I will offer a rare glimpse of the best practices, experienced intrapreneurs, and tales from the University of Michigan class on social intrapreneurs to provide a map and compass for creating big sustainability wins at companies through change initiatives.
The lessons may not propel you to the summit of Mt. Sustainability today, but they may help you reach the next peak.

Article 2. How Social Intrapreneurs Can Seize the Moment for Green Projects

You decide to attempt an ascent of Mt. Sustainability with a social impact project -- now you just have to figure out when and how. If you're not just waiting for the clouds to open up, Monty Python-style, with the voice of some higher power to send you on your quest, how do you get the project off the ground?
According to the class on Social Intrapreneurs at the Stephen M. Ross School of Business, an opening in the clouds may not be far from reality. Lessons from the second week of the class help sustainability professionals seize the opportunity and build a case for a sustainability initiative.
In the week when we celebrate the accomplishments of Martin Luther King, Jr. and the American Civil Rights Movement, the framework designed by Professor Jerry Davis and former student Chris White draws heavily on social movement research to identify the enabling criteria for social intrapreneurs. "Part of what we're doing here is finding the analogs to these factors in business changes that happen at the corporate level and signal now is the right time for this," says Davis.
Observers often point to Rosa Park's refusal to give up her bus seat for a white passenger and subsequent arrest as the catalyst for the Civil Rights movement. Numerous conditions from new media to desegregation of the military and hypocrisy of promoting democracy abroad without freedom at home enabled action. Movement leaders capitalized on this moment to launch a successful series of boycotts organized by a network of churches and activists in response to years of injustice.
The break in the clouds for an intrapreneur could be as simple as a public statement or as transformative as a new CEO. "One of the best examples is when Bill Ford became CEO of Ford," says Davis who calls the great-grandson of the company founder an example of an elite ally. "He was named Detroit's most vocal environmentalist. It was the signal of a big opportunity." Suddenly engineers working on hybrid technology found support for their projects and produced the market's first hybrid SUV.
Next page: Tools of the trade
One enabling condition to seize the opportunity, as in Ford's case, is to have something in the works. We all know the innumerable benefits of sustainability: reputation building, cost cutting, talent retention, risk reduction, new markets. So how does an intrapreneur know what benefits to highlight in building a case?
Start with Yoshikoder. Yoshikoder is publicly available content analysis software that maps company language to communication frames that provide insight into the benefits, data, and authorities the company values. Students use it to analyze corporate documents such as 10-K statements and press releases to pitch an international service corps similar to the growing number of such programs described in a recent Wall Street Journal article.
"Data show this is a really efficient way of using company resources to train high potential employees," says a team of students in a mock pitch to Davis and peers acting as Cisco executives. "Cisco services and solutions are about creating optimal business efficiencies and these are things we can practice with partner organizations," the team says of the international community service program proposal.
The team highlights benefits that meet the market and industrial values of the company. Content analysis depends on the type of data used, the students discover when their analysis produces different outcomes by assessing 10-K's and company blogs versus 10-K's alone. Access to internal documents gives intrapreneurs even greater precision for a case.
Even with a sophisticated pitch based on the values of the company, executives are sold good ideas all the time. "Pitch to the current opportunity structure or problem that you're facing," says Davis to emphasize connecting the social impact project to immediate business objectives.
Social impact initiatives are especially good at resolving a disjuncture between public statements and actual company practice or a suddenly imposed external challenge a la Greenpeace, but they can also meet quarterly and annual strategic objectives. "You can aim to formulate your innovation as the solution to a problem or problems the company is facing," Davis says.
Much of the work of social intrapreneurs seems incremental when compared to the American Civil Rights Movement. Even in the case of the American Civil Rights Movement, it was nearly 10 years of small successes after Brown v. Board of Education and Rosa Park's courageous action before the Civil Rights Act was passed.
Under the best conditions, the most well devised social impact initiative can take years to reach its peak. The groundwork and success seizing an opening in the clouds will largely determine its outcome.

Article 3. How Social Intrapreneurs Can Navigate Networks and Power Structures

In 2008, IBM sent its first group of 100 employees to perform month-long service projects around the world. Today, IBM's Corporate Service Corps (CSC) is the model for similar programs spreading rapidly to other companies, but when the initial proposal was first presented to executives, they laughed.
The third part in this series on Social Intrapreneurs following a class in the Stephen M. Ross School of Business at the University of Michigan examines how intrapreneurs like those at IBM navigate and use networks to build the case for social impact initiatives.
The week kicks off with Kevin Thompson, a former Program Manager of the IBM CSC and graduate of the First Movers Program at the Aspen Institute (nominations for the next class ends Jan. 31). "In corporations you have to work in a system, you have to influence, you have to build allies, you have to do all these different things," he tells students. In 2006, CEO Samuel Palmisano wrote an article in Foreign Affairs [PDF] on the transformation of IBM to a globally integrated enterprise and the company was seeking initiatives that would achieve that vision.
"We took the ball at Corporate Citizenship and tried to connect it to the business," says Thompson. Although the program offered an alternative to the pricy, $1.2 million per person year-long international assignment, its likelihood of success and ability to execute were in question by executives. Building support for the idea throughout IBM, therefore, was essential.
Malcolm Gladwell's The Tipping Point is the seminal book on networks and the spread of ideas. Gladwell describes the sudden boom in Cabbage Patch doll sales in the 1980's as an example of the "Law of the Few" in which some people exert disproportionate influence on new ideas and products. The book is a requirement for the class and labels people with authoritative influence as Mavens, relational influence as Connectors, and persuasive influence as Salespeople.
The trick for the IBM team was to identify a few of each. "If there's a place where you know a lot of employees go, start a conversation so you can show how many people are talking about this," says Thompson. Their methods were personal: increasingly they got to know certain executives. "One of the things that has been demystified as I've gotten to know senior execs is that they're people too," he says. These executives became sponsors who navigated the funding process with the CFO's office.
An increasingly sophisticated set of tools available in the last few years enables social intrapreneurs to be ever more strategic. MBA students in the Michigan class use free NodeXL software and publicly available instructions [PDF] to generate a full network map using data on interactions among colleagues from a company. The map looks like a solar system and identifies people with high connector influence, clusters of connections that could be allies or opponents, and degrees of separation between program allies and key decision-makers.
Data for such a map requires a full survey with questions such as "How often do you talk with this person for your job" and "How often do you socialize with this person", but sources of data may be more accessible with existing networks. "During the idea phase, if I was doing it today, I would use social media," says Thompson. The proliferation of internal company social media platforms and external tools like LinkedIn InMaps can be used to identify influencers and allies.
Thompson's team cleared initial approvals and the program was announced in summer of 2007 by the Chairman. The team moved forward with program design by meeting with leaders in specific functions, business units, and country heads. They needed Human Relations to sanction CSC as a leadership development program and addressed concerns by Sales that that their employees, whose performance was measured by different metrics, could participate.
The CSC design team learned what they needed for their case and built support from the network, then they were given one final challenge: a minimum of 250 applicants. When the IBM network delivered 5,500 applicants who met the top performer criteria, the team had what it needed to reach the tipping point. "In the end the strength of the experience, stories of participants, and media coverage calmed the first wave of resistance at time of launch," says Thompson. They mined the applications for data that demonstrated the broad appeal among IBM employees across countries, age groups, and functions.
"In geology, some aquifers are under so much pressure that you tap them and they flow for ten years," says Thompson. "That's what you want to do as social intrapreneurs." The CSC is now entering its fifth year with 500 participants annually and it has become a strategic approach for IBM to develop new emerging markets by gathering insights and generating brand equity.

Article 4. The Importance of Mobilizing Allies for Social Intrapreneurs

In the year after protestors toppled entire governments across the Middle East while others successfully occupied the global economic agenda for months, observers ask: have social media unlocked the door to widespread mobilization?
This is the fourth in a series following a class taught at the Stephen M. Ross School of Business at the University of Michigan on social intrapreneurs and it builds on last week's article about navigating networks. Professor Jerry Davis and former student Chris White introduce students to tools and tactics that can mobilize allies in the most recent class.
Three social network tools in particular may ease the hard work of mobilizing allies to transform business into sustainable enterprise. Oliver Stewart presented to the class from Portland, Ore., on Opal, a cloud-based system that allows projects to progress apart from the company. Justin Yuen, owner of FMYI that enables enterprise and project collaboration among various stakeholders, and Susan Hunt Stevens of employee engagement platform Practically Green corresponded with me via email.
"Skunkworks" is the focus of the presentation by Opal Labs' Oliver Stewart to demonstrate the enterprise software. A concept pioneered by Lockheed, skunkworks are innovation teams working relatively autonomously. "It is a set of tools for corporate intrapreneurs to create skunkworks for collaborative innovation," says Stewart. The externally hosted platform looks familiar to users of other social media including personal profiles, a comment feed, and method to endorse ideas.
Stewart walks students through an example from Method, the non-toxic cleaner company. A senior manager posts a challenge: "What is the one thing we need to get better at right now to improve sustainability of our products?" He then offers a "bounty", a reward of a free pass to the industry conference of choice, and sends an invite to employees. Over the course of a week, people post ideas, select a project based on endorsements, and collect research to present a case to the CEO for compostable bottles.
Another approach enhances project collaboration among internal and external stakeholders. Justin Yuen, whose company is a certified B Corp, is passionate about enabling success of social intrapreneurs. "It's not just about social networking and challenges. It's about getting things done in a social impact-friendly platform," he says in an email. A central project page keeps track of activities by numerous stakeholders -- employees, contractors, suppliers, and vendors -- all with varying access permissions.
Hyatt Earth Network currently uses FMYI to coordinate sustainability teams across more than 250 sites. "Each location can share updates, post questions, and learn from one another as their projects progress," says Yuen. Content is fully searchable and accessible based on topics tags mapped to Hyatt's sustainability priority areas. The program has been so successful it recently expanded into the Hyatt Thrive program.
Practically Green focuses on the stage where broad employee engagement is essential to program success. "We have a hot-off-the-press infographic to showcase what Americans are planning to do to live healthier and greener. This is not just 'talking' about green," writes founder Susan Hunt Stevens in a recent blog. The Practically Green application engages employees through a series of environmentally beneficial actions to motivate behavior changes.
Nearly 150 employees of Seventh Generation, another non-toxic cleaner company and also a B Corp, use the platform. Employees earn badges with actions like joining the company green team or changing commuting habits and can see what their colleagues are doing via an integrated suite of standalone applications and a web portal.
Social media can be a powerful platform for mobilizing allies, but it cannot entirely replace fundamentals. Network guru Malcolm Gladwell, introduced last week, describes the strengths and limits of social networks last year in a The New Yorker article that students read. "Social networks are effective at increasing participation -- by lessening the level of motivation that participation requires," he writes.
"There are many things, though, that networks don't do well," he continues. He states the so-called "weak ties" of social media are suited for adaptability and broad participation but fundamental changes to existing systems requires a disciplined core of dedicated leaders like those in the American Civil Rights Movement. "The civil-rights movement was high-risk activism. It was also, crucially, strategic activism: a challenge to the establishment mounted with precision and discipline," he writes.
The promise of connecting and uniting allies through social media can be real. It should also complement a strategic approach with organized leaders, tasks, and goals. Mobilizing allies requires knowing when and how to use appropriate tactics to unlock sustainability.

Article 5. Why Social Intrapreneurs Must Engage Coworkers and Break Down Siloes

Social intrapreneurship is not a leisure activity. The one theme among the people who make positive change within companies is not about the importance of CEO support, sophisticated strategy, or fancy tools. The tie that binds social intrapreneurs is that building momentum is hard and requires persistence, patience, and creativity.
This fifth in a series following a class on Social Intrapreneurs in the Ross School of Business at the University of Michigan taught by Professor Jerry Davis and former student Chris White highlights the persistence of two intrapreneurs enhancing sustainability and human potential at their companies. This week, DTE Energy's Joe Malcoun spoke to students about a leadership development program he is creating and Interface's Melissa Vernon spoke via email about a volunteer program for her company's sales team.
DTE Senior Associate Joe Malcoun is forthright with the realities of social intrapreneurship. Speaking to students about a leadership development program he's helping to create today, he describes the challenge of building momentum. "Social innovation aims to benefit the entire company, but change can be viewed as a threat by some. You have to be aware of that and be willing to take the risk," he says.
He and several colleagues are designing a structured leadership development program for all of the nearly 30 recent MBA hires of this $8.6 billion publicly traded utility. Built around a vision of functional collaboration, community engagement, and professional development, the aim is to increase interaction across three functional areas where development is currently siloed.
"Employee engagement is the starting point from which DTE intends to achieve its aspirational goals," he says of the program vision. "Highly engaged employees will drive solid customer service and operational excellence." A small group of recent hires began working with Malcoun to outline the program and identify supporters last spring. Despite building a case for the program and garnering the buy-in of an influential ally, the company CFO, the design is still evolving as the team slowly builds support.
"It's a difficult task breaking down silos," he says. "It gets really complicated in a corporate structure because of the different functional priorities." Drawing from strategies in the first few weeks of class, students offer Malcoun suggestions for the next stage in the program design. "It's hard to maintain momentum so you should have a digital way for frequent, structured dialogue," suggests one. "You need to frame this for two categories of people: MBA's and Management," offers another.
"One of the points I thought was really great is that we have not yet tailored the pitch to different groups," he says in acknowledgement of student input. He goes on to say the program may need to start smaller with a self-selecting group of individuals, then explains that his next step is to build a stronger group of allies among potential participants. "In the future we're going to focus on the benefits to the group and individuals," says Malcoun, committed to persevere.
Persistence and creativity to continuing the mission is essential even at one of the companies most synonymous with sustainability: Interface. The first article in this series began with the historic commitment of the $1 billion carpet company's founder and CEO Ray Anderson to climb Mt. Sustainability. While CEO support opens many doors, according to Director of Sustainability Strategy Melissa Vernon, even Interface needs intrapreneurs.
A momentum building moment for Interface's sustainability journey occurred during the 1997 World Meeting where CEO Anderson aimed to coalesce disconnected business units into a unified whole on sustainability. Employees from around the world converged on a hotel in Maui and by the end of the week the environmental theme took over the process of unifying a worldwide company and galvanizing employee's commitment to sustainability.
After nearly a decade and a few slow years weathering bad economic conditions, the Interface sales team needed a booster shot. The 2005 meeting intended to reignite the spirit of Ray Anderson's legacy. Vernon's team proposed everyone perform community service "Legacy Projects" similar to one in 1997 with Hawaiians that led to the creation of the Hoòkupu Trust. "The goal was to create and reaffirm individuals' emotional commitment to Interface's role in the world in terms of sustainability," she says.
The team needed to persuade the President and Vice Presidents of Marketing and Sales to get the green light. "We can't just propose a project and expect it to move forward on the grounds of 'sustainability' alone. Our projects are held to the same criteria as all business projects," says Vernon. Once they received approval, they convinced Regional Vice Presidents and Segment Vice Presidents to lead the eight Legacy Projects near the sales meeting site.
When the 250 employees arrived at the sunny Florida resort, golf was more on their minds and some bemoaned the fact that they would be required to give up their free time. With agreements already in place to install carpet at a homeless shelter, clean up a National Estuarine Preserve from illegal dumping, and organize a food pantry, the team had to cross their fingers and hope that employees would see value in the experience.
It was a success. "These three hours have emerged into a powerful storytelling tool that has shaped our culture and further defined what social sustainability looks like at Interface," says Vernon. The program is now in its seventh year and nearly 1,400 employees have donated approximately 3,600 hours to 55 different organizations in six different cities during company time.
"Enthusiasm oozes from the sales force," says Vernon of the newest tradition that has become one of the most anticipated parts of building momentum towards the company's sustainability and human potential goals.

Article 6. Helping Social Intrapreneurs Enhance Their Impact Outside the Enterprise

Few issues have more potential to enhance impact outside of the enterprise than human rights and water. Working conditions in factories are as top of mind for electronics today as they were for apparel ten years ago, while water scarcity is an exponentially increasing risk for any industry with assets or supply in arid regions of India, Africa, and the Middle East. According to the Ford Motor Company's Dave Berdish, Ford is a leader of positive impact for both.
Social impact outside the enterprise is the focus of the sixth article in a series following a class on Social Intrapreneurs in the Ross School of Business at the University of Michigan taught by Professor Jerry Davis and former student Chris White. This week, Ford's Manager of Social Sustainability, Dave Berdish, visited the class near his home in Ann Arbor.
Berdish speaks to students like he works: with conviction and authenticity. "There's people we have to take care of that are underserved," says Berdish about his motivations to take on sustainability part way through his career. He worked 17 years in operations at Ford plants in Michigan before he was tapped in 1999 to create a human rights policy when Bill Ford became chairman. "For me, sustainability isn't just environmental, it's also social," he says.
His strategy for increasing external impact begins beyond the enterprise. "One of the reasons I was successful is that I was so enthusiastic to get outside the factory walls. That's a contrast to how I worked in manufacturing," says Berdish. He formed relationships with Ceres, the Global Reporting Initiative, Human Rights First, and the United Nations Global Compact on Human Rights. He also learned from counterparts at Nike and Disney who were a few steps ahead of Ford in blazing new trails in sustainability at the time.
By 2003, Ford became the first automotive company to adopt a Human Rights Code of Working Conditions. Beyond a policy in name only, it included a training, assessment, audit and remediation program among its first tier supply base. Berdish also established a program to identify emerging issues and a stakeholder engagement process and he personally visits company sites as often as he can. "People just don't trust you if you're on the other side of the world and it's very, very hard to manage," says Berdish.
Buoyed by initial success and external credibility, he strengthened internal relationships to increase the program's longevity and impact. "When you're trying to work on something, especially as important as sustainability, there's something to say about the relationships, trust, and trustworthiness," he says. One of the relationships Berdish cultivated was with his boss Sue Cischke, the Group Vice President of Sustainability, Environment and Safety Engineering, who retired last month.
With Cischke's support, Berdish pushed Ford to endorse the U.N. Global Compact, a bold move and a first for a manufacturer. "A lot of success is about intestinal fortitude, resilience, and passion," says Berdish, who worked closely with the legal department to bridge aspirational goals and legal constraints. According to him, Cischke's collaborative approach and background in operations was critical to aligning internal and external forces to achieve Ford's goals.
Today, Ford's human rights work impacts the entire supply chain. "We won't partner or source with anyone who doesn't have a policy on hours worked, pay, child labor, slave labor," says Berdish, who admits that the policy puts Ford at a cost disadvantage to competitors. Ford added elements to assess for Community Engagement and Indigenous Populations, Bribery and Corruption, and Environment and Sustainability to the policy in the last six years. The benefit, according to Berdish, is that the code grants Ford trust and access to engage, learn, and work in regions that are strategic for the company.
Trust is essential when you work on something as sensitive as water in developing countries. Berdish plans to increase Ford's positive impact from his first decade in sustainability by taking on water in his second. "Water issues are increasingly important to our stakeholders, including our customers, investors and business partners," he says.
The human story is central to the business case Berdish has learned to build as a social intrapreneur. His comfort working with stakeholders in the communities around the world where Ford operates gives him unprecedented access to their lives and an understanding of their needs. He shares an example of a water presentation he gave in 2010 to students during his class visit. Scattered alongside data on global water use trends are photographs of water in the lives of people where Ford operates.
The strategy he outlines includes full life cycle and community impact accounting for water across Ford's global operations. Other elements of his plan include minimizing global water consumption, maximizing reuse at Ford facilities, and leveraging water quality actions to build relationships in local communities to positively influence local policy. Ford was also a pilot company for the Carbon Disclosure Project's recently released global standards on water disclosure.
The linchpin that will increase Ford's positive impact in its communities is to direct resources towards regions with highest water need. "The real revolution is how to change the approach to capital investments, technology, and mindset," says Berdish. Historically, Ford spread capital evenly across all plants to achieve yearly water reduction goals of 2 to 4 percent. "Why not give it all to Chennai, India, where we have a huge impact?" he asks.
He also plans to engage employees more deeply in his water initiative, a lesson he takes from his initial human rights work. "I want to learn more about our employees' passion," he says of the inventory of stories he's beginning to collect that will form the foundation for his water sustainability principles. "People are doing incredible things as part of their jobs or on their own time to contribute to a sustainable Ford."
Human rights and water go hand in hand and Dave Berdish has managed to place both on the agenda of the Ford Motor Company. The business case was not always air tight, but the outcomes have largely been beneficial for both Ford and the communities where it operates.
We want to be welcome at the table and be looked upon as a company that goes further than just selling cars and trucks," Berdish says about his genuine love for helping people and helping Ford be a leader in social impact. New companies promising triple bottom line benefits would do well to take a lesson from one of our oldest manufacturers.

Article 7. The Social Intrapreneur's Push from Innovation to Company-wide Integrity
The easiest part of the journey to the top of Mt. Sustainability for most is the first step. A green team here, a public statement there. The harder part is the many, many steps between the first and the last. Social intrapreneurs that want to learn what it takes to continue the journey can take a cue from a little known Midwest manufacturing company that is well along the path to sustainability -- Cascade Engineering.
Today we conclude this series on the stories, lessons, and tools from the class on Social Intrapreneurs in the Stephen M. Ross School of Business at the University of Michigan. Over two months, Professor Jerry Davis and former student Chris White showcased successes and tools of intrapreneurs that I wrote about for professionals. The series concludes with a company that is transforming the first steps up the mountain into enterprise-wide integrity. Cascade Engineering is a middle market Midwest manufacturing company that is small but successful in large part because of sustainability.
In an era when macroeconomic forces have decimated America's manufacturing in the Midwest, Cascade is thriving according to CEO Fred Keller who presents to students in the class. The company, founded in 1973 to produce injection molding plastics for automotive, now has 10 manufacturing sites and 1,200 employees. In 2009 and 2010 it grew by 20% year-on-year.
Cascade's nearly four decades of manufacturing and sustainability began with commitment to a Triple Bottom Line (TBL) policy. "Our stated purpose for existing as an organization is to have a positive impact on society, the environment, and be financially successful," says Cascade's Dave Barrett, a 37 year veteran who leads talent development. The company is the only manufacturing B-Corp, a legal status that commits it to a triple bottom line, and the largest until Patagonia certified last December.
The company has honed many tools and processes along the way including a system for experimentation. "I think if you pitch a project based on making a positive impact and it doesn't cost very much money and maybe even makes money, to me that is a compelling argument," says CEO Keller. Such experimentation has helped it enter new markets such as waste hauling, renewable energy products, and even consumer products.
One recent experiment is the Pink Cart, a bright pink rolling refuse cart that gives $5 of the sale from each unit to breast cancer awareness. "You want to be able to start small, to test it and have the hypothesis," says Keller. The cart project is gaining momentum as it increases company sales, which recently surpassing 50,000 units. One municipality already committed to use them for 100% of its waste bins.
Part of experimentation for Cascade is learning how to fail. Several training programs that support the company's goal to be the employer of choice in the region were built on previous failures. "We tried to do a work to work program with Burger King but found that there were too many barriers," says Keller. The company launched two different initiatives to bring people out of poverty and off welfare in the mid 1990's that were unsuccessful for different reasons.
"We needed to improve our support and understanding of people in poverty, we needed to ‘empathize' without sympathizing with a new group of folks that were well intentioned but needed to learn new skills," says Keller. Their reviewed of the process revealed a need for targeted just-in-time skills training in addition to education of current employees. The third launch was a success. The program is now nationally recognized and blossomed into initiatives for previously incarcerated workers, veterans, and neighborhood job security.
Training and education does not end with new workers. Integrating sustainability throughout the enterprise requires ongoing education of employees at all levels. "Fred taught his ‘sustainability' class to a significant number of leaders," says Barrett, the talent development leader. "We continue to educate all leaders and many floor employees through a class titled ‘Introduction to Sustainability'." Speakers present to engineers about Design for the Environment and internal teams are tasked with identifying ways to train employees in new skills related to the company's triple bottom line mission.
The easiest part of the journey to the top of Mt. Sustainability for most is the first step. A green team here, a public statement there. The harder part is the many, many steps between the first and the last. Social intrapreneurs that want to learn what it takes to continue the journey can take a cue from a little known Midwest manufacturing company that is well along the path to sustainability -- Cascade Engineering.
Today we conclude this series on the stories, lessons, and tools from the class on Social Intrapreneurs in the Stephen M. Ross School of Business at the University of Michigan. Over two months, Professor Jerry Davis and former student Chris White showcased successes and tools of intrapreneurs that I wrote about for professionals. The series concludes with a company that is transforming the first steps up the mountain into enterprise-wide integrity. Cascade Engineering is a middle market Midwest manufacturing company that is small but successful in large part because of sustainability.
In an era when macroeconomic forces have decimated America's manufacturing in the Midwest, Cascade is thriving according to CEO Fred Keller who presents to students in the class. The company, founded in 1973 to produce injection molding plastics for automotive, now has 10 manufacturing sites and 1,200 employees. In 2009 and 2010 it grew by 20% year-on-year.
Cascade's nearly four decades of manufacturing and sustainability began with commitment to a Triple Bottom Line (TBL) policy. "Our stated purpose for existing as an organization is to have a positive impact on society, the environment, and be financially successful," says Cascade's Dave Barrett, a 37 year veteran who leads talent development. The company is the only manufacturing B-Corp, a legal status that commits it to a triple bottom line, and the largest until Patagonia certified last December.
The company has honed many tools and processes along the way including a system for experimentation. "I think if you pitch a project based on making a positive impact and it doesn't cost very much money and maybe even makes money, to me that is a compelling argument," says CEO Keller. Such experimentation has helped it enter new markets such as waste hauling, renewable energy products, and even consumer products.
One recent experiment is the Pink Cart, a bright pink rolling refuse cart that gives $5 of the sale from each unit to breast cancer awareness. "You want to be able to start small, to test it and have the hypothesis," says Keller. The cart project is gaining momentum as it increases company sales, which recently surpassing 50,000 units. One municipality already committed to use them for 100% of its waste bins.
Part of experimentation for Cascade is learning how to fail. Several training programs that support the company's goal to be the employer of choice in the region were built on previous failures. "We tried to do a work to work program with Burger King but found that there were too many barriers," says Keller. The company launched two different initiatives to bring people out of poverty and off welfare in the mid 1990's that were unsuccessful for different reasons.
"We needed to improve our support and understanding of people in poverty, we needed to ‘empathize' without sympathizing with a new group of folks that were well intentioned but needed to learn new skills," says Keller. Their reviewed of the process revealed a need for targeted just-in-time skills training in addition to education of current employees. The third launch was a success. The program is now nationally recognized and blossomed into initiatives for previously incarcerated workers, veterans, and neighborhood job security.
Training and education does not end with new workers. Integrating sustainability throughout the enterprise requires ongoing education of employees at all levels. "Fred taught his ‘sustainability' class to a significant number of leaders," says Barrett, the talent development leader. "We continue to educate all leaders and many floor employees through a class titled ‘Introduction to Sustainability'." Speakers present to engineers about Design for the Environment and internal teams are tasked with identifying ways to train employees in new skills related to the company's triple bottom line mission.