Leaders of tomorrow ‘get’ it, New thinking will transform business world

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By Jeanne Pengelly, Axiom News

Published 12.12.12

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Bruce Klafter

Bruce Klafter has no trouble seeing hope for the future of the business world when it comes to sustainability initiatives. All he has to do is look at the students who gather at the Net Impact Conference annually. (This year's was held in Baltimore last month.) Many of them attend the Presidio Graduate School where Klafter says they get “action-ready” education.

“When that cohort of students is embedded in the business world, we won't have as much difficulty as we currently do” getting buy-in for sustainable initiatives by corporate colleagues,” he says.

The head of corporate responsibility and sustainability at Applied Materials, a technology company in the heart of Silicon Valley, says that is the “single most important thing” when he looks to the future.

“In the corporate world, you have to deal with a lot of cynicism and a lot of other constraints,” he says. “The leaders of tomorrow get it. I won't have to work on 'em so hard.”

Klafter's job is to guide a small team that champions sustainability initiatives at Applied Materials, “planting seeds,” as he says, then discovering and sharing the supports.

That usually means identifying an issue, one like he identified several years ago, carbon, and then watering it from all sides.

“It was pretty clear that carbon was becoming something that companies had to know about and deal with – we had to teach ourselves how to do a carbon accounting,” he said. Klafter sent emails to key players in the company, first planting seeds, then nurturing them with one-on-one meetings, weeding out what he calls skepticism.

While the carbon initiative at Applied Materials successfully bloomed to the point that the company hired an Energy Office, Klafter says “it's refreshing to get out of the corporate world and into the Presidio world.” He was the first Expert-in-Residence for Presidio Graduate School, and is slated to be an instructor in the Executive Certificate Program, beginning in January. If he had more time, he would be even more involved with Presidio, he says.

“People are not getting a sustainability degree at Presidio,” he says. “They're getting a business degree with an emphasis on sustainability.”

For Klafter, that means new frameworks and approaches that can integrate things like sustainability planning with business operations.

“Working from the inside out with a cadre of new-thinking managers will be the single most transformative thing in the next decade,” Klafter says. “We certainly have many many challenges ahead, but I'm very enthused that there are so students willing to devote their lives to tackling these huge global issues.”

Jeanne Pengelly, Axiom News

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