“Sustainability professionals have to be polyglots, to shift gears and speak multiple languages across the organization,” Jenny McColloch ’12, director of restaurant sustainability for McDonald’s Corporation, advised students during the GE Colloquium in Sustainability Leadership convened by the Center for Business and the Environment at Yale (CBEY) on February 18. Success in the sustainability field, she said, requires the ability to exert influence by creating connections across functions and throughout an organization.
The key, McColloch said, is “focusing on your audience and understanding what their priorities are and understanding how the work that we are trying to move forward aligns with those priorities. It’s an exercise in finding ways to help other people feel connected to our work.”
Bob Langert, retired vice president of sustainability at McDonald’s and currently editor-at-large for GreenBiz Group, joined McColloch in the discussion, which was moderated by Stuart DeCew ’11, CBEY’s program director. Langert agreed that engaging with individuals on their own terms is the best way to effect change in a large organization. For example, he said, when he communicated about sustainability with McDonald’s owner/operators, he would start by telling them that they were already acting sustainably in their everyday business operations simply by following the corporation’s energy and recycling guidelines.
Establishing that feeling of connection organization-wide to a corporation's sustainability strategy is critical to advancing the mission, McColloch said.
“Sustainability helps to unlock passion and a sense of inspiration in people,” she said. “ It’s not necessarily about saying that every function has to do everything related to sustainability; it’s about understanding how their parts fit into this broader puzzle, and then our team’s job is to help connect the pieces and move it all forward.”
This article first appeared on Yale School of Management.