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The Green Year in Review

The Green Living Program has been an active part of the HBS community the past year. The goal of the program is to promote more responsible, environmentally conscious behaviors among students.

The program’s goals are well aligned with the mission of the Harvard Business School – to educate leaders who make a difference in the world. Of course, HBS does not spell out whether the difference will be positive or negative, and I suppose our alumni have fallen into both columns over the years. Most of us take for granted that we want to become leaders who make a positive difference in the world. Green Living is a valuable program that keys in on the overlap between the efficient use of resources that is central to competitiveness in business and the sustainable use of resources that is key to our survival as a species.

Of course, more than at other Harvard campuses, the practical and critical student body of HBS forces the program to be pragmatic in its goals and methods rather than a mere “feel-good” activism that is both wasteful and de-motivating. In the HBS Show, one of the characters in the story commented about the paper flyer he received in his Aldrich mailbox urging him to recycle paper. While I don’t think Harvard’s real-life Green Living program ever conducted mass distribution of flyers advocating paper recycling, there is a helpful, constant scrutiny for Green Living itself to be environmental conscious.

The program has compelling relevance for business leaders. There is a simple principle that the Business and Environment Club turned into a creative marketing slogan featuring Michael Douglas’s Gordon Gecko, the Incredible Hulk, the Green Giant, and Yoda: Green is good.

Green, the color of money, symbolizes wealth. It is also the color of nature, symbolizing sustainable, socially responsible behavior. We are increasingly learning that these two forces are not in opposition, but alignment.
This is why the Dow Jones Sustainability Index has outperformed the Dow Jones Industrial Average in each of the past four years. This is why companies are creating millions of dollars in value through environmentally conscious innovations to their business models.

Some of the major green highlights of the year included a visit to Burden Auditorium by former Vice President Al Gore and a screening in Spangler of his Oscar-winning documentary, An Inconvenient Truth. Green Week, spearheaded by the Business and Environment Club, provided a variety of events focusing on the environment (see the website, www.greenweek.biz, for more info).

Additionally, the Green Living Program frequently tabled weekly TGIFs to raise student awareness. Finally, there was a Green Living competition between the dorms, based on both energy savings and residents signing a commitment to change personal behaviors. McCullough Hall won the overall competition with a combination of energy savings and pledging. My own dorm, Hamilton, was noted as the only residence hall in all of Harvard University to get a 100% pledge rate.

Like many of the Green Living activities, the pledge drive was an opportunity for residents to come together as a community so that everyone could stand behind principles of responsible behavior and social consciousness. The main challenge to overcome to get people to participate in the pledge was their limited time and attention rather than opposition to sustainable living. If you reach out to people and make it easy for them to understand and participate in the pledge, HBS students proved pretty cooperative for this worthwhile cause.

When the industrial revolution began three hundred years ago, we had an economic system with abundant – seemingly infinite – natural resources and a scarcity of skilled labor. Today, we have more skilled workers than ever in the history of the world, and the pool continues to expand. But our natural resources are stretched too thin. Leaders with the judgment and courage to adapt to these new realities are saving our future and reaping benefits for themselves and their organizations in countless ways. We need more of these leaders. Many more.

April 30, 2007
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