MANAGEMENT WOMEN : Women in Power – breaking through glass ceilings

The top executive at Philips, Canon NZ, DSE, Sunbeam and Sharp happen to all be women – but more importantly they are business people serving at the upper echelons of management dealing with new technology, triple bottom line reporting and the logistics of fitting New Zealand’s unique retail market needs in with their global parent companies’ strategic objectives. The executives discussed three broad topical issues: environmental factors, economic impacts and whether or not there is glass ceiling in New Zealand.

Do you think sustainability can be achieved while still improving the bottom line?
Meech Aspden: I think so. It needs to be integral to your entire corporate strategy, so needs to be built into everything from product development, design, research and development right through to how you implement it. This is not just in terms of the product but also your own operation. For example, if you look at your own operations what can you do there in terms of improving energy efficiency in your own building?
Felicity Herron: I don’t think you can pay it lip-service. It needs to become part of your corporate culture. I don’t think that it will necessarily be competitive advantage, it will become way that everybody does business. We will all need to think in this way.
Jan Nicol: Sharp has certainly seen the global trend. It’s matter of being able to do that in an efficient way. By being sustainable you actually are adding efficiencies into your business. For example, it can be small things, like double-sided photocopying. There are things that we can do to minimise our carbon footprint. It’s all about change and making it part of the corporate culture. It’s all about educating the staff – you’ve got to live and breathe it or you fail.
Kim Conner: Canon produces and releases full sustainability report and that’s really assisted both internal and external personnel and companies to understand our philosophy. Sustainability means different things to different people, so we’ve really identified what our strategies and objectives are and how we’re going to move forward with each of them. That’s the key.
Aspden: That is really important point: to make sure that within each corporation you set targets and actually measure year-on-year performance, especially in the area of environmental issues.
Philips has set targets in terms of the number of green products that we want to bring out each year and how much that accounts for our total business.

Are you finding there are considerable costs you’re having to take on to get yourselves more sustainable?
Herron: Consumers are going to drive lot of this change so you can’t really consider this to be cost. These initiatives will be revenue generating over time. Consumers will now shop for environmentally friendly products with companies that are seen to be supporting an environmentally better outcome. In the early stages some of these changes may create additional cost but it is what the public is going to demand.

Do you think knowledge of environmental factors is criteria for management today?
Aspden: You’ve got to understand the issues and ramifications but also be able to have the conviction in terms of being able to convey the messages [to your team]. But there is lot of education that we’ve got to do as corporations to educate consumers. You have to be able to educate yourself first to be able to educate consumers.
Nicol: All the new young buyers are being educated [about green issues] at school. You’ve got the Genesis school programme putting photovoltaic systems on roofs so that children can see the benefit of self-generating energy and talking about everything that goes with that. The younger generation is putting pressure on because they understand the issues. They’re better because they’re taught it. So as we go through the evolution of generations (Y or X’s), they are probably more attuned to it than the baby boomers and the boat builders so it’ll gradually progress.

Are those of you with international bases finding an increase in operating costs because of oil prices?
Conner: Yes, but it’s more about reviewing your costs 24/7. It’s constant review process.
Aspden: I don’t know about other corporations but we’ve just published our operational carbon footprint for the first time. That was very worthwhile exercise to go through in terms of doing the calculations including air travel, logistics etc. We’re using that now as benchmark. Every year we’re going to publish our operational carbon footprint and see if we can actually improve our operational energy efficiency and reduce our own carbon dioxide emissions.
Conner: We do the same. At Canon our target is to improve the eco efficiency of operations and products by factor of two. This numerical indicator means at least halving the amount of carbon dioxide we generate for every dollar of sales by 2010, using 2000 as the reference year.

It must be quite brave move to put yourself out there and say “we have footprint the size of yeti but we’re going to work at it and try to get that down”.
Aspden: We just shifted (two and half years ago) from Auckland’s St Lukes to Mairangi Bay. And that’s been really interesting exercise comparing our electricity bill and seeing savings of 25 percent. For example, we installed new technology in our building, such as Occuswitch in the bathrooms – an automatic detector whereby the lights stay off until someone walks into the bathroom. With basic technology like this it’s amazing the savings you can actually achieve on running costs.
Johnston: I think to certain extent the Government doesn’t do enough to reward these efforts. They should be encouraging people to use sustainable products. Be it by way of subsidy, or penalty if you don’t. But it’s currently not their philosophy.
Aspden: We’ve been looking at schools. In lot of schools the buildings are old. So we’ve been providing free lighting audits. One of the things that we were trying to discuss with the Government is for them to help the schools out, because the schools can’t afford to replace all of their lighting.
Maybe they could say the savings that they actually get from the electricity bill is what they end up paying per annum. It encourages schools to replace their lighting but also to get return on investment as quickly as possible. So if you can shorten the ROI time on putting in new lighting and they’re only paying back that difference, it’s much easier for schools to make that conversion.
Nicol: It’s more about making sure that when new developments are happening you do have procedures in place. There are lot of organisations putting together packages and ideas to get the environmental message home – that’s only part of it. The other part is all of the appliances out there.

How many companies here are involved in customers being able to return and recycle products?
Conner: We’re doing it with toners and cartridges and that has been very successful. The toner recycling programme is in place to minimise waste and hazardous chemicals to landfill. The customers sign up to the programme and are sent toner recycling box which is then collected for recycling.
Herron: We’ve got recycling bins for ink cartridges in every store and incentivise our customers to use this service. In addition, I think all of us here are involved in the government initiative to look at recycling televisions.
Aspden: You don’t want to shift the problem from the consumer to the retailer to the manufacturer. You’ve actually got to come up with an industry-wide solution. Shifting the problem to another country is also not good for the environment long-term. The key is to be able to break it down into components, then try

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