MIT Sloan Prof, Richard Locke, Talks Sustainability at Amazon, Intel, Nike

One of MIT’s leading business professors, Richard Locke, came to Seattle yesterday to talk about the “S” word. Yes, we’ve been hearing a lot about sustainability lately, in the context of technology and business. Big companies like Microsoft, Amazon, and Boeing are talking seriously about the issue. Smaller Seattle-area companies like Verdiem, Powerit Solutions, and R.W. Beck have been making progress in important areas like energy efficiency and water management. To Locke, and many others, sustainability is much more than a corporate buzzword.

Locke is deputy dean of the MIT Sloan School of Management, and a professor of entrepreneurship and political science at MIT, based in Cambridge, MA. His research specialties include labor standards and practices, global entrepreneurship, and sustainable businesses. I sat down with him at the Westin Hotel downtown to get his perspective on Northwest companies’ green initiatives, and their possible partnerships with MIT. Locke was coming from meetings with Intel in the Portland area the previous day (the Santa Clara, CA-based chipmaker has manufacturing and development facilities in Hillsboro, OR). His other meetings in Seattle included a stop at Amazon to speak to Sloan School alums about the changing face of MBA education, and about sustainability in the corporate realm.

Locke defines sustainability broadly as “using resources today in a way that permits future generations to use them as well.” By this he means not just natural resources—energy, materials, water—but also social resources like people, jobs, and standards. “Let’s redefine sustainability in such a way that we can show the opportunities available, not just the constraints,” he says. “Once you broaden the definition, you expand the scope for individuals and organizations to try to do something about it.” (As I understand it, this definition of sustainability could include managing employees so they don’t burn out, creating jobs that last, and establishing fair labor standards that endure.)

Take Intel, for instance. Locke says the company is pursuing a series of initiatives to reduce its carbon footprint, improve its supply chain efficiency, and reshape the way it uses energy, water, and people. “Are there ways they can make, for example, new chips that might require less energy? They’re having a very interesting internal discussion about chip speed versus energy consumption. I find it fascinating that a large company in an extremely competitive sector, that still does manufacturing in … Next Page »

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