Moving the needle

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Articles - June 2014
Thursday, May 29, 2014

I was in a rut. A few months ago, I was at my desk trying to come up with cover story ideas for our June “green” issue.  But I was stuck on a concept that is a bit too tried and true in the magazine business. That would be the “10 innovators/game changers” story format, as in: “10 green innovators (or innovations) changing the world.”

Google the words “green,” “innovators” and “changing the world,” and watch the search engine results rush in.

Fortunately, April Streeter*, a longtime journalist and occasional Oregon Business contributor, infused my brain with some fresh thinking. Instead of writing about trendsetting eco innovators, she said, why not focus on the people who play an equally important role in shaping the course of green business: the executives and civic decision makers who craft the public policies and business strategies that define Oregon’s economy? 

Bingo. It was a simple but great idea. Take a cross section of executives, industry association leaders and civic leaders, and get their perspectives on the state’s sustainable economy: What does it mean for Oregon to have a green economy, to balance private sector leadership and government regulation? And is it important for the state to be a national green leader from an economic perspective?

The result is a feature that is less about transformative green ideas and technologies than gradual, market-based changes that help all businesses operate in a cleaner and more sustainable fashion. 

Our 2014 100 Best Green Companies to Work For in Oregon list is similarly rooted in a philosophy of incremental improvement. The majority of organizations listed (see page 46) are not game-changing green businesses per se but instead are banks, software firms, auto-parts stores, etc.: mainstream companies that are slowly but surely greening their workplace practices.

Elsewhere in the magazine, we do spotlight the sexier, more groundbreaking ideas often associated with moving the sustainable economy needle. For example, one of the companies featured in our  “Launch” column is Rogue Rovers, an Ashland startup building a “smart,” sensor-equipped, electric-powered ATV aimed at reducing water use in orchards and vineyards. 

Cutting-edge technologies designed to leapfrog environmental problems versus cautious, market-oriented business practices: This is the combination — and the tension — that defines Oregon’s green-business climate in 2014.

—Linda

 

*April was unavailable to write the article, as she was otherwise occupied writing about corporate sustainability in Southeast Asia for the U.K. magazine Ethical Corporation. I assigned the story to freelancer Courtney Sherwood, who executed the idea admirably.

 

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There’s a fascinating article in the December issue of the Harvard Business Review about a profound power shift taking place in business and society. It’s a long read, but the gist revolves around the tension between “old power” and “new power” as a driver of transformation. Here’s an excerpt:

Old power works like a currency. It is held by few. Once gained, it is jealously guarded, and the powerful have a substantial store of it to spend. It is closed, inaccessible, and leader-driven. It downloads, and it captures.

New power operates differently, like a current. It is made by many. It is open, participatory, and peer-driven. It uploads, and it distributes. Like water or electricity, it’s most forceful when it surges. The goal with new power is not to hoard it but to channel it.

The authors, Henry Timms and Jeremy Heimans, don’t necessarily favor one form of power over another but merely outline how power is transitioning, and how companies can take advantage of these changes to strengthen their positions in the marketplace. 

Our Powerbook issue might be viewed as a case study in the new-power transition. This annual book of lists provides information on leading businesses, nonprofits and universities in the state. Most of the featured companies are entrenched power players now pursuing more flexible and less hierarchical approaches to doing business. Law firms, for example, are adopting new technologies and fee structures to make legal services more accessible and affordable.

This month we also take a look at a controversial new U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission rule requiring public companies to disclose the median pay of workers, as well as the ratio between CEO and median-worker pay. 

Part of the 2010 Dodd-Frank financial reform law, the rule will compel public companies to be more open about employee compensation, with the assumption that greater transparency will improve corporate performance and, perhaps, help address one of the major challenges of our time: income inequality.

New power is not only about strategy and tactics, the Harvard Business Review authors say. “The ultimate questions are ethical. The big question is whether new power can genuinely serve the common good and confront society’s most intractable problems.”

That sounds like a call to arms. Or a New Year’s resolution. Old power or new, the goals are the same: to be a force for positive change in the world. Happy 2015!

— Linda


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