• December 1, 2008
  • By Jessica Tsai, Assistant Editor, CRM magazine

Required Reading: It’s a Bird. It’s a Plane. It’s You.

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Several centuries may have passed since John Donne wrote “no man is an island,” but he’s no less right today. The actions of one person can affect the lives of many, says Tim Sanders, author of Saving the World at Work. A single person can pursue an initiative that can improve the reputation of your entire company; that, in turn, can appeal to an ever-growing population of socially responsible consumers. From employees to customers, everyone wants to know that what they’re doing jibes with their hopes for a better future. After all, if we can’t save ourselves, who will? CRM magazine Assistant Editor Jessica Tsai spoke with Sanders about what it takes to save the world.

CRM magazine: You write about saving people, communities, and the planet—does it, or should it, go in that order?

Tim Sanders: The planet will be fine. [It] might not be hospitable for Homo sapiens, but it will go on, and it will shrug us off like a bunch of bad obnoxious fleas. All three are important, but you’ve got to start with getting the people part right.

A company that’s green is a company that grows everything it touches. [A company] should improve the lives of all those that work for and buy from it. [It] should enrich every community and be innovative enough to find synergy with helping the community and helping its business model be stronger.

“Eco” is a wave. It will be followed by another wave starting next year about local—“Think global, buy local”—followed by another wave a year after that around work-life balance; then eco will be back. I see this as a 20-year trend, but it all comes down to social responsibility.

CRM: For those who want the immediate gains from ecofriendliness, what’s their motivation for sticking it out?

Sanders: You should invest in innovation especially when it’s market-driven. Companies have to look at [themselves] in four to five years and ask, “Are we going to be a partner or a parasite?” The ultimate way to create customer loyalty is to mesh the psychological and spiritual needs of this purpose-driven economy.

The more you practice an ecoculture, the more you can stack up the argument that you care about the environment and that’s what your customer wants. I call it talking the walk. Whatever you do, whatever you discover, share that with your customer so they can do it, too. Give them a sense of purpose when they do business. (See page 24 for this month’s cover story about the power of transparency.)

CRM: What can companies start doing immediately?

Sanders: My book’s not written to companies. It’s written to people like you and me. The message of the book is that you need to go to work and begin to reinvent how [your] company makes money in a way that helps people, communities, and the planet.

If, right now, a company came to me saying, “What do we do?” I’d say three things:

First, don’t give your people personal recessions. Show your people that you still want to grow them as people. Don’t cancel training. Take executive pay cuts before you make quick layoff decisions to satisfy the shareholders.

Second, find community needs that are greater than yours and divert people’s attention toward [them]. Bad as it is for you in a recession, you should see what’s going on in the local communities where you do business. Your cost to acquire new employees will drop, [and] you’ll find that you’ll be able to replace traditional direct marketing and advertising with community investments. It creates viral word of mouth.

And finally, an ecological company practices four things: reduce, reuse, recycle, replace [nonsustainable with sustainable]. The last two are really expensive, [they’re] hard, and there’s no easy answer. The first two are recession-friendly green strategies.

Two things you need to [do] right now: Reduce your printing by 90 percent and outlaw overnight shipping.

CRM: How would you describe the urgency we face today?

Sanders: Earth is like a little startup business that’s running out of cash really fast. It doesn’t have good credibility because it can’t get its product out in time—so no one else is going to give it any more [chances]. It has to make do with what it has. Classically speaking, it has a burn rate.

You have to cut the burn rate. Create an initiative in the company that buys us time so the product developers and the marketers can finally get traction. We can come up with an iPod or something. The companies that save themselves, save themselves because they cut the burn rate long enough so the innovation saves the company, even if it means scrimping, saving, reducing, reusing. I believe that there’s an equal chance that there are innovations around the corner that can make a profound difference on our quality of life, but we’ve got to [cut] the burn rate because the preponderance of the evidence says the planet’s on fire.

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