Professional practice | Forum proceedings: UTSpeaks

22 Mar

As a final-year undergraduate student, as well as one without a colossal amount of experience* of the industry I wished to break in to**, I wasn’t sure whether I knew much about the industry. Hence, fairly late in my degree, I began to attend events that were organised by and for professionals of that discipline.

All well and good, you might say, but what good will it do? What can the time-starved person with multiple other commitments really obtain from such things?

Well, ‘networking’ [collecting others’ contact details, telling them about your interests, finding out about theirs, offering a mutually beneficial relationship – not usually in that order!] is one thing that has been talked about and talked about. I’m not going to talk about it here, though I will address it in a future post. I mention it because it is one thing that can be done while attending industry gigs.

Figure 1. Thinking about these concerns, and then acting on them, can help one’s career to flourish just like these plants appear to be. (Image from National Geographic.)

Figure 1. Thinking about these concerns, and then acting on them, can help one’s career to flourish just like these plants appear to be. (Image from National Geographic.)

Assuming that one has a particular industry, field or discipline in mind that one wishes to work in, I would suggest it is useful to regularly attend events in that discipline:

  • For those who I might term ‘established’ – e.g. those who are employed in the field they wish to work in, in a role that fulfils their needs – the things you can learn help ensure that your work reflects trends, pressures and whatnot that happens in the wider world beyond your own team/organisation. The bottom line: it helps one’s work to be more relevant.
  • For those I’ll term ‘aspiring’ – e.g. those who are looking for a role at a certain level in a certain field, that they have not worked in – listening to others helps give one a sense of what the ‘established’ do: how they talk about their experiences, the vocabulary they use, what sources they trust to find out about events, trends and other professionally relevant shenanigans. The bottom line: it helps one to be able to speak about one’s experience, or trends, with some kind of authority. Which can be of great use in a job interview.
Under the right circumstances, this is what a job interview sometimes looks like. If one has a photographer in the room, that is!

Under the right circumstances, this is what a job interview sometimes looks like. If one has a photographer in the room, that is!

Alternatively, you could:

a) have a chat with someone who does keep up to date with industry trends, and give them cake to encourage them to share their knowledge with you; and/or

b) scour academic literature and ask complete strangers for their thoughts on leading-edge trends. This might be worthwhile, but most likely will take a bit more effort!

So, now that I have provided something of a rationale for attending such events, without any further ado, here are my notes from a 2011 UTSpeaks public forum titled Sustaining Business: Will vision and leadership be the keys that safeguard corporations in an uncertain future?

The forum coincided with the launch of a book authored by the event’s presenters. Now that I think of it, authoring a book is one way to assert one’s appreciation of a discipline.

****

Presenter: Professor Suzanne Benn

Issue: the how of sustainability as a corporate strategy is lacking.

When it comes to embedding sustainability, there are two major approaches which the presenter highlighted. Obviously, they are simply examples and there might be many other types.

Goals Approach
Compliance/reinforcement Informal/soft
Strategise/innovate Formal/hard

There are tensions in both examples.

The above table and stolen image http://ecoopportunity.net/2011/07/why-sustainability-is-a-lot-like-high-school-sex/dr-bertels-chart/ are based on the work http://ecoopportunity.net/2011/07/why-sustainability-is-a-lot-like-high-school-sex/ of Dr Stephanie Bertels http://beedie.sfu.ca/profiles/StephanieBertels .

The above table and image are based on the work of Dr Stephanie Bertels.

Amongst the companies on the World Business Council for Sustainable Development, amongst the more important themes for addressing sustainability issues is the application of systems thinking.

Systems thinking suggests that entities be considered in terms of how they interact with those around them, and not individually. For instance, where there is a problem, one might not simply look for a cause and effect, but wider interactions.

Making use of systems thinking, there are three approaches organisations can use to incorporate sustainability [and in parentheses I have included my own interpretation]:

  • Life cycle thinking (considering for one’s output – a mobile phone, say – what are the environmental implications of this product from cradle to grave)
    • (E.g. during the extraction and refining of minerals for components; manufacture; distribution; during the use of the product by the consumer; in disposal)
  • Stakeholder engagement (of the entities that may have an interest in your organisation’s work, how many of them do you involve? To what degree do they have input in how your organisation does business?)
  • Complexity thinking (to my understanding, this may be related to holistic thinking – where parts of a system are viewed not individually, but in the context of the harmony or disharmony with which they work)

There is, however, an alternative approach: integrative thinking.

Recommended reading list: MIT Sloan Management Review (which seems to be a type of institute) and Boston Consulting Group. Together they publish literature on the topic of business sustainability.

Exhibit A.

Exhibit B.

***

Presenter: Dr Bruce Perrott

One definition of organisational sustainability might be “meeting the needs of present stakeholders without compromising the benefits and returns to future stakeholders”

Recommended reading:

Worthwhile is an article titled The Sustainability Imperative, published by Harvard Business Review.

Also of use might be a book, titled Organisational Change for Corporate Sustainability, by Dunphy, Griffith and Benn (published in 2007). Yes, that’s right, it is authored by all three presenters.

A PowerPoint presentation available online offers what might be a rather handy summation of some ideas in the book.

**

Presenter: Professor Dexter Dunphy

Nothing in leadership has prepared us for this [current time, with its challenges for corporate and societal sustainability – and associated decision-making].

Some out-of-focus Brisbane night-time scenery for you. Coincidentally, many organisations are just as fuzzy regarding how to comprehensively implement holistic sustainability principles into their operations and vision. That's not a veiled criticism, it's simply my (untested) belief.

Some out-of-focus Brisbane night-time scenery for you. Captured by yours truly. Coincidentally, many organisations are just as fuzzy regarding how to comprehensively implement holistic sustainability principles into their operations and vision. That’s not a veiled criticism, it’s simply my (untested) belief.

Their book provides a useful roadmap in this arena.

There is a hierarchy of corporations and their responses to sustainability:

  1. Rejection: organisations that fail to recognise the need to change. They actively sabotage attempts in that direction. Their leaders allow the organisation to feel the impacts (penalties) of this strategy
  2. Non-responsiveness: organisations that don’t feel the need for change applies to them
  3. Compliance: organisations that recognise the legitimacy of these [sustainability concerns] but only do the minimum to avoid trouble
  4. Efficiency: these organisations might be characterised for having a focus on human systems, physical resources
  5. Strategic proactivity:                     these can become market leaders by embracing strategic benefits of addressing sustainability
  6. The sustaining corporation: one that seeks to reinvent itself with its response to sustainability

*

Panel discussion

As the heading suggests, the speakers completed their presentations and were joined by a panel of experienced sustainability professionals. Here is a summary of the notes that I took from the proceedings:

  • [It is important, for one to keep one’s sanity, to] recognise that you’re part of a system
  • [When a company makes an investment – particularly in sustainability – it always] needs to see a payback. Fuji Xerox had to plug all the awards they won.
  • One needs to measure the hell out of one’s initiatives, especially for management to understand their impact
  • Question: is price important?
    • Answer: no-one will pay a cent more for a product that is more sustainable, or less sustainable. It is a matter of [the successful product] being better than its competitors, at the same cost, oh and also, it’s a more sustainable product. (Which sounds impossible – that’s why one invests in innovation.)
  • Question: how to respond to stage 1 (rejection phase) companies/advocates?
    • When one has a [sustainability project] and the devils emerge, (that is a figure of speech, obviously!) intent on destroying it, that’s a sign they are taking you seriously – that you’re winning.
  • Question: how might SMEs (this of course is an acronym for Small to Medium Enterprises) incorporate these sustainability concerns?
    • The main way in which this might happen is by large corporations’ increasingly stringent standards filter through to suppliers and suppliers’ suppliers.
This was certainly part of an impression that I took from the presentations. Is it a cause for alarm? Not in the least, for those who are willing to adapt, innovate, and generally reorient themselves.

This was certainly part of an impression that I took from the presentations. Is it a cause for alarm? Not in the least, for those who are willing to adapt, innovate, and generally reorient themselves.

Sincerely,

Polluticon

* I had about two years of experience. From having worked in internships, volunteering and casual paid work.

** Organisational efforts to respond to environmental and more broadly, sustainability concerns.

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