As True Market Solution’s Chief Sustainability Officer and Vice President of Product Development, Rory Bakke has led the development of sustainable business products and services that focus on developing a “new normal” mindset for enterprises as they learn to identify and leverage the value within their organizations.

Rory is an environmental policy, strategic planning and stakeholder engagement expert who has been instrumental in establishing ground breaking industry standards, assessments, partnerships and educational programs in collaboration with leading organizations such as Underwriter’s Laboratories (UL), The GreenBiz Group, B Lab, StopWaste.Org. and the Global Institute for Sustainability Ratings.

She takes pride in being a pragmatic advocate for sustainable business who excels at empowering leaders to use social and environmental performance to improve their organizations and our world.


Q — Why is sustainability so important to you?

There are a couple of key reasons. First, because sustainability opens a door that needs to be opened — the door to bringing more participation, creativity, and innovation to the workplace. Sustainability is an important part of innovation and a direct means to having people bring more of themselves to their work.

Second, and more pragmatic, I believe in the direct and dire impacts of climate change to water, energy, food, and security. A sustainable solutions framework blends addressing those problems with the continuing importance of economic development.


Q — What are the larger challenges that keep sustainability initiatives from being readily adopted across sectors?

Traditionally we’ve viewed sustainability activities as a cost center and a burden and that’s a barrier to adoption. The old idea, for example, that recycled paper jams your printer is something that we couldn’t get people away from for a long time, even though it’s no longer true. The fact that sustainability is a value creator, not cost center, is still a difficult mind shift for people to make.

Another barrier is the fact that what we pay for water, energy, material and waste disposal, and food are out of whack with their actual environmental impact in part because of continued subsidies. On the policy side, there’s been little organized or influential federal support. Although in California we have a policy framework that is more climate savvy and ‘progressive’, there is still not an integrated national policy framework to support what we need in terms of sustainability.

Also, we lack an agreed upon single definition of sustainability. Because of this, its meaning and value get watered down and people become frustrated and unclear about what to do next. Without a common language, this is another a barrier to moving forward.

Lastly, I’d add what I would call ‘hubris’ — people have accepted a general superficial definition of what sustainability is, so they think they are already doing it. The real potential value of sustainability is not widely understood nor appreciated except by those few leading organizations who are experiencing big wins from sustainability and innovation.


Q — Why do you think businesses should take this so seriously now?

Stakeholder expectations are increasing. Customers, investors, and business partners are demanding transparency — insisting on knowing that companies have integrity and are authentically doing a good job on environmental and social performance. It’s become a business issue.

Also there is a risk to supply chains. Whatever part of the supply chain you’re looking at, the whole value chain needs to be responsive to the expectations to remain competitive in the marketplace. The supply chain needs to be thought of as a collaborative system — so that means training together, becoming transparent together while remaining competitive in the marketplace, tracking together, etc. The structure and culture of the supply chain needs be rethought.

I also think that organizational systems are beginning to go through a larger change. Current organizational structures are not a fit anymore for what is becoming the new business model in all kinds of industries. Businesses are risking losing competitive advantage because they are not gaining all the value from the creativity hidden in their organization. It’s all about stakeholder engagement now — not just top down management. Input needs to come from everyone who contributes in the organization. The clearest evidence for that is the fact that ‘employee engagement’ is the term you see most regarding what companies are focused on because economic results depend on employee involvement and contribution.


Q — You focus a lot on behavior change. Can you define what you mean by ‘behavior change’?

Behavior change is anything that transforms human behavior. It’s developing a ‘new normal’ mindset and using that to get people to take action. I especially like the concept of the behavioral cusp which is any behavior change that brings an organism’s behavior into contact with new contingencies that have far-reaching consequences. This is exactly what is happening with climate change; it’s giving people opportunities to look at new environments and related behaviors.


Q — Why is it important to include behavior change in a sustainability plan?

Without behavior change, there’s no way to actually make change that is going to endure. I saw this happen time and again for 10 years while I was with Stopwaste.Org. Over and over, a champion at an organization would leave and their program would fall apart. Also, technology alone without a focus on associated behaviors is not the answer. Behavior change needs to be a key part of strategy.


Q — What can organizations do to encourage behavior change?

Companies need to be looking as deeply as they can into how employees and other stakeholders can contribute to moving the company forward on environmental and social performance while creating economic value. Positive behavior change is going to provide value no matter who you are. Better customer engagement is going to reduce the fear about what organizations can do about sustainability.

MGM Resorts International, for example, figured out how to emphasize the service and luxury that customers desire while moving forward in sustainability. My Green Advantage is a company-wide employee engagement program that includes gamification and social networking to encourage linking their sustainability efforts at work and at home — it’s a program that’s fun and increases social relationships. It has also achieved impressive environmental results.


Q — How do you see the future playing out? What’s needed to really impact the future?

I think that organizations are starting to embrace a new ‘post-industrial’ way of being competitive where sustainability is a core competitive strategy. But leaders need to speak out and establish the value proposition that sustainability is actually a national security issue as well as a critical answer to climate change and how people get meaning from their work. There are both business and government leaders who know this, but it needs to be part of a new mindset. And we can’t undermine ourselves within organizations because of a lack of trust that this is true. This means empowering and trusting people to be in self-managed teams and be accountable for their own milestones and achievements. Millennials in particular will hold people accountable to this because they want to see meaning in their work — money is not enough. It’s going to take courage.


Rory Bakke will be speaking on the importance of behavior change and small business at the Behavior, Energy, and Climate Change Conference on December 8, 2014 in Washington D.C.