Board member leverages sustainability as a driver of business

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By Lisa Bailey, Axiom News

Published 1.23.13

Rahul-Raj-Presidio-Board

Rahul Raj

Rahul Raj’s work at Walmart.com shows that economic and social benefits can be delivered simultaneously.

As director of sustainability and merchandising innovation, he incubates new revenue streams to advance sustainability. One of the initiatives Raj launched was an electronics buy-back program, where customers receive market value for their old, unused cellphones and other devices. They can use that money to buy whatever they need while their devices are refurbished and connected to an interested buyer.

“As a result, you have more useable devices out there in the world and then you’re also preventing them from degrading in value to the point where they end up in landfill,” Raj says. “It’s one example of where you can deliver both economic and social good at the same time.”

It’s this philosophy — that sustainability can be woven into the DNA of a business or business model —that energizes Raj about Presidio Graduate School, where he was a mentor in residence in 2011 before joining the board of directors this year.

Presidio’s integration of sustainability into business study rather making it an add-on, inspires Raj because “we are graduating from the era where sustainability lives within corporate social responsibility,” he says.

“This is more than just about what makes you a good corporate citizen. Sustainability is about an entirely new way of engaging in business where social and economic contribution is seen as components of a larger whole.”

Raj, who received Wal-Mart’s Innovation Champion Award and a First Movers Fellowship from the Aspen Institute, marvels that Presidio encompasses a group of talented students who not only study sustainable business management but also learn how to take it into the organizations they enter.

Having “a whole class of intrapreneurs” engaged in helping to show the business community the potential to deliver social and economic outcomes is very powerful, Raj says.

“While I believe there are a number of businesses that are well on that path, it certainly hasn’t pervaded all of business. And so having these courageous and intelligent individuals out there across corporate America illustrating a new path forward I think serves a really hopeful and inspiring scenario for the country and for the world,” Raj says.

He’s aiming to help grow the momentum of this movement through his involvement with Presidio. Mentoring both MBA and MPA students, Raj says he wanted to support Presidio in part because he knows that a lot of social pressure comes when a student publicly acknowledges the pursuit of a career in sustainability. He debunks the idea that success hinges on landing a job with sustainability in the title.

“In reality, sustainability is part of everyone’s job, and it’s the extent to which you can bring your values to your job on a daily basis and leverage this unique position, where you have a deep understanding of the organization and a deep understanding that sustainability doesn’t require you to sacrifice advancing the mission of your organization,” Raj says.

“It’s reframing it from an ‘or’ conversation, whether it’s profitability or sustainability, to an ‘and’ conversation. I wanted to bring that insight to the school and to the students, to say that this is something that everyone can do, and so don’t exclusively look for sustainability-titled jobs and have that define your success. Success should be finding a culturally-aligned or values-aligned organization where you can be more of you more of the time.”

Lisa Bailey, Axiom News

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