Just back from an amazing trip to the
Saatchi S is run by Adam Werbach, environmentalist enfant terrible (he was President of the Sierra Club at 23) now turned corporate businessman. A few years ago he founded Act Now, an environmental consultancy, which was bought by Saatchi's in January for an eye-popping amount of money. The company still occupies offices on the same dilapidated street in
Inside, there are a lot of bright, creative and idealistic young things, most of whom wear cheerful lapel buttons, bearing catchy messages like "I've met my personal health sustainability goals." The clients are big on lapel buttons, the woman who designs them explained proudly. It gives the staff a sense of achievement about the changes they've managed to make.
The Personal Sustainability Plan (PSP), which the buttons celebrate, is a cornerstone of the Saatchi S philosophy. Every staff member of every client company they work with has a PSP. That commits the employee to taking small but definite steps towards making his or her own life more environmentally sustainable, whether by giving up smoking, carpooling, buying a hybrid, whatever is practical for that person. In the case of Walmart that means over 1 million people.
Employees are encouraged to make changes that reflect values they really care about. That way they are more likely to stick. This is based on another important insight of Saatchi S: everyone cares in a deep inner place about their natural environment. The challenge is to find that place in each person.
The biggest obstacle is "to detach sustainability from politics," as Jamie, one of the trainers, put it to me. "Environmentalism is pegged as a pinko liberal, East Coast cause. We'll go into a company in
The task is to have people articulate deeply held values that may have become occluded by politics, ideology or sheer habit, and to get them to commit to actions that will strengthen the place of those values in their lives.
Adam Werbach is a secular Jew. "Most of this I got from my grandparents," Jewish immigrants from the former
Saatchi S’s work with Walmart has been criticized by some environmentalists as, at worst, selling your soul to the devil and, at best, rearranging the deckchairs on the Titanic. The argument goes, “who cares if Walmart’s cashiers carpool to work when the company’s brutally low cost, high environmental impact supply chains cause such huge damage?”
From a religious perspective these criticisms miss the point. Real change happens one person at a time. Top-down policy shifts can be reversed as fast as the winds of business fashion. Walmart and other mega-companies will go green when sustainability is part of its consciousness from top to bottom.
As Rabbi Israel Salanter, founder of the mussar movement famously said. “At first I thought I could change the world. Then I tried to change my community. Then I attempted to change my family. Finally I realized that it would be an achievement to change myself.
But in changing himself he changed the lives of hundreds of thousands who followed him.