Emus, doing good, and doing well!

This past Saturday I was at NYU for the 85 Broads conference on “2020 Vision: The Future is Yours!” Robert F. Kennedy, Jr., keynote speaker on “The Transformative Value of Green Tech”, received a good laugh when he explained his lack of sleep, having helped his seven-year-old son look for his lost Emu toy until 2 am.  His presentation, nevertheless, was loaded with energy. His main message? By doing good, we can also do well!

Kennedy addressed the audience with great zeal regarding green technology. In addition to eliminating waste and using our resources wisely, he envisions opportunities for the U.S. to move from reluctant follower to becoming a leader in green tech. And, he argues, it makes great business sense. For example, Kennedy suggests investing in sustainable strategy will result in leaner cost structures at every level and job creation throughout the economy.

Kennedy also walks the talk and has engaged in a number of roles such as Senior Attorney for the Natural Resources Defense Council, Author, Speaker, Partner at VantagePoint Venture Partners and Chairman of Waterkeeper Alliance. His family home north of New York City is all naturally heated and decorated internally with environmentally friendly and recycled materials – “my personal power plant” Kennedy jokes.

You may wonder what this entry does on a site for careers and executives. For one, there is the evolution from carbon neutrality (the absence of something bad) to having a net positive impact on our environment (the pursuit of something good, which is the defining characteristic of living north of neutral).  Green tech, furthermore, is full of opportunities for entrepreneurs and employees alike. Over the past three years alone, Kennedy says, “green” has created more jobs than all Fortune 500 companies together. Research shows organizations that invest in sustainability attract top talent. In addition, a 2008 Stanford University survey of its graduates shows that overall they are willing to forgo 15% of their salary if they as a result can work for an organization that reflects their own value system. This example points to one of the most important crossroads of positive psychology and business – employees who find meaning in their work are generally more productive and creative, contributing to the organization’s bottom line.

Perhaps most importantly, a good deal of current research shows that the executive competency most related to successful sustainability initiatives is not selflessness or altruism, it’s commercial orientation. For companies strategically pursuing it, sustainability – ultimately – is about the sustainability of the organization itself. And that means that executives leading these organizations will increasingly be able to differentiate themselves, first based on their rejection of a conflict between doing good and doing well, and second on their resulting ability to create green value.