One of my favorite authors and local hero Joel Makower writes about an environmental liaison job with Wal-Mart in Bentonville. Will this job come with instructions on how to apply for food stamps too? While I am truly thankful for the environmental progress they are making, sustainability is about the triple bottom line - people, planet and profit make a strong three-legged stool to sit on. Walmart has a very wobbly stool indeed - it's profit leg is too long and it's people one almost nonexistent. The fact remains that Wal-Mart pays "begging wages". I've probably met people on the street who make more per hour hustling for change than the workers at Wal-Mart. And their recent attempts - the "Associates out in Front" program includes such winners as a special polo shirt after 20 years of service. Twenty years and all I got was this lousy shirt? What about time off for a family emergency (not allowed) or clear and open communication with management (which employees have been transferred to worse shifts for). God forbid they allow unionizing and the freedom of association, which is a right that our U.S. constitution and law allows!
It is so deeply important that leaders in the environmental forefront do not forget about the people leg of the triple bottom line. Because true sustainability cannot be achieved without the conditions that encourage people to act with respect for each other first. Respect for the planet and all our relations follows naturally after that. It's like a Maslow's hierarchy of environmental progress. If people can't affort the extra few cents for the green toilet paper or whatever their local chain is hawking, then we have a problem.
I know there is always a lot of behind the scenes work that consultants do, and that it takes a long time to change a corporate culture. My hope is that every corporate consultant on sustainability is doing what he or she can to help CEO's and others learn the importance of the triple bottom line. And when appropriate, making those efforts visible to the community are important to show, too.