To survive, companies need to serve their shareholders, turn a profit, and many believe that profit motive conflicts with protecting the environment. The truth is, companies cannot stay competitive if they are not constantly innovating – both in their processes and their products or services – and thereby improving in response to market dynamics.

Many people think that sustainability and profitability are at odds. Not Intel, and it’s got the numbers to prove it. In 2017, a pivotal year when the company began a transition to a more data-centric business, its earnings per share (EPS) was up by 27%.

Intel is one of the most innovative and successful companies in the world, and it is again considered one of “The Most Reputable Companies in the World,” by Forbes, rising up on the 2019 list to number 11 on this list of 100 companies. One of the reasons is that Intel has taken its role as a corporate citizen very seriously for many years. Dave Stangis created its first Corporate Responsibility/Sustainability function in 1999 and became its first Director of Corporate Responsibility. (Listen to my interview with Dave on my podcast here.)

Today, Suzanne Fallender wears that title, and here are her thoughts on how Intel manages, based on our interview on my podcast:

1.     Make the investment – it pays dividends: Sustainable business practices are saving them money, even taking the investment into account. She told me they saved $500 million “on top of an investment of $200 million.”

2.     Fashion solutions to each location: Because each one is unique, they use about 20 different technologies on about 95 different projects worldwide to achieve 100% renewable energy use in their U.S. and EU operations and about 70% globally. Their Santa Clara, CA headquarters for example has microwind turbines and solar carports, whereas their India operations have fuel cell projects.

3.     “Meet people where they are”: Fallender said neither always making the business case, nor always making the environment case works. “I think it’s always about meeting people where they are. I think sometines people can go over the edge of just making the business case…I think people want to do the right thing, so it’s kind of getting that balance right on the issue between the two.”

4.     Understand the communities you operate in: This applies to the kind of talent you want to join your team, and which markets you want to serve.

5.     Be prepared to talk about your sustainability efforts with potential new recruits: Fallender said she talks to a lot of potential new recruits from across all the functions in the company during their interview process, because so many of them ask about sustainability and corporate responsibility initiatives

6.     Integrate both sustainability and innovation in compensation packages: Fallender told me that integrating environmental goals into t heir operational goals “is a way to make sure everyone from the CEO to the regular line employees are having a part of their compensation rise or fall depending upon whether we as a company hit some of our key goals in the corporate responsibility space.”

She added t at, “It puts (corporate responsibility) on a par with these other operational goals, saying these things are just as important as some of these customer and product milestones.”

7.     Keep rethinking processes to keep innovating and improving: Fallender told me this is one of their biggest challenges. Because they have been doing this sustainability-responsibility work for so long, all their “low-hanging fruit is gone,” so they have to dig deeper to find innovations and improvements.

“Look at where the opportunities are from exactly where you’re sitting,” which is good career advice too.

8.     Align efforts across the company:  As more groups and business units are innovating and wanting to get engaged in the sustainability-responsibility efforts, integrate them into the processes, and “think more holistically.”  This includes their goal to increase the number of women-owned suppliers Intel engages. “It makes you think about the suppliers you might be overlooking.”

9.     Spend your time deliberately: Fallender told me she knows she’s never going to stay on top of everything, because there’s just too much. So, she prioritizes her time, making sure to invest a lot of internal time with different groups in the company, “understanding what people are working on, really investing in those relationships and connecting people to each other.”

She also reads “a lot,” stays in touch with people who do this work at other companies…and in nonprofits.” And, she added, “you also have to make time for thinking and learning and reflecting.” And, to recharge, as she told me she does by doing things purely for enjoyment.

“I am not beating myself up too much about not getting everything done all the time,” Fallender explained, “because I think you can drive yourself completely crazy, because there’s too much to do it all.”

But you can make a big difference from right where you are, if you think creatively, build relationships, ask people what their challenges are, and then help them solve those challenges.


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