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“You Can’t Do Business on a Dead Planet”: Kellogg’s Martin Melaver Interview

Sustainability makes sense from a business and, more importantly, from a moral perspective. It really is that simple for sustainable business leaders like Martin Melaver (author of Living Above the Store: Building a Business That Creates Value, Inspires Change, and Restores Land and Community). Would you rather get up in the morning just for the sake of a paycheck, or get up in the morning with a sense of purpose (and get a paycheck)?

Business leaders must embrace the future—because without a sustainable, triple-bottom-line, morality-based business plan—there won’t be a future.

From Kellogg World, the alumni magazine of Kellogg School of Management:

In his new book, Living Above the Store: Building a Business that Creates Value, Inspires Change and Restores Land and Community (Chelsea Green, 2009), Melaver provides a road map for achieving sustainability, and explains how the sustainable practices of a real estate company translate to other fields of business.

Kellogg World: What are some of the challenges of investing in sustainability?

Martin Melaver: I think the biggest challenge to moving in a sustainable direction is an internal one. It’s getting over one’s fear of not conforming — fear of taking a path that’s less tried and less familiar. I look at external obstacles as versions of an imaginary line: you just go around it. The thing that keeps you from going around it is your own internal frame of mind and how you see things.

KW: What are some of these external obstacles you’ve faced?

MM: We’ve seen local building ordinances that make little sense in today’s era of limits on our natural systems; investment capital that doesn’t get the longer view of investing along multiple bottom lines; tenant-rep brokers who, because they are transaction-oriented, don’t like non-cookie cutter deals. In the early days, we simply found ways around these obstacles. Now, with a more maturing “green” market, we find those voices and pockets of resistance largely irrelevant.

KW: What drives your passion for sustainability? Is it as simple as you think it’s the right thing to do?

MM: Yeah, it really is that simple. I think there’s sort of a common-sense piece to it too. Which is, if I gave you the choice of waking up in the morning and collecting a paycheck versus getting up in the morning with a sense of purpose about what you do, what path would you take?

KW: If it’s common sense, why aren’t more executives adopting that mindset?

MM: I think many, many people in leadership positions don’t realize how open the field is, and how many options they have. [They believe] that’s how it’s been and that’s how it is and that’s how it will always be. I think a lot of people don’t consider other possibilities. They think about walking within a confined set of parameters that they’ve inherited.

KW: What would you say to an executive who needs to be sold on sustainability?

MM: I think there is a financial imperative and a moral imperative to sustainability. The financial imperative is very simple: Businesses that get sustainability are going to find themselves viable in the future. Businesses that don’t are going to be noncompetitive. The moral imperative is even easier: You can’t do business on a dead planet. Just like you wouldn’t want to be a manufacturer of buggy whips when the automobile comes into play, you’d not want to be a laggard when it comes to a basic focus on energy and water. That’s not sitting in a very smart position.

Read the whole article here.


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