Short-term outlook damaging, says Gore

Former U.S. vice-president tells top employers to focus on value of intangibles

When Al Gore, the former vice-president of the United States, rolled into Toronto on March 22 he came armed with a very clear message for employers.

Gore, who has risen to near superstar status in the wake of the phenomenal success of his film An Inconvenient Truth, which recently won an Oscar for best documentary, told a standing-room only crowd at the 2007 Top Employer Summit at the Four Seasons hotel that employers have a responsibility and the ability to do something about climate change.

Not just because it’s the right thing to do, but because it’s also the profitable and sustainable thing for organizations and employees. His message was music to the ears of HR professionals struggling to get employers to understand the intangible, long-term value of what they bring to the table.

“There is a big shift in the business community around the world toward a greater appreciation for the fact that the short-term, quarterly report point of view misses a lot, and if a company is going to be profitable and productive on a sustained basis that means looking at some of the factors that don’t always show up on the balance sheet,” said Gore.

He referred to a famous saying by psychologist Abraham Maslow: “If the only tool you have is a hammer, every problem begins to look like a nail.”

“If the only way we recognize what’s valuable and profitable is the price tag, then the things that don’t come equipped with price tags can begin to look like they’re not valuable,” said Gore. “But the attitude of the employees and their loyalty and feeling about the company has a direct impact on turnover, retraining costs, labour productivity, the amount of creative effort they’re going to be putting in to try and lift up the company’s goals and aspirations.”

Short-term view hurts employees

He was also critical of investors and the negative impact they have on organizations by putting too much pressure to perform in the short term with little view for the long term.

“In my nation, 30 years ago the average holding period for stocks was seven years,” he said. “Now, the average mutual fund turns over their entire portfolio in less than 11 months.”

If the entire psychology around investing is short-term, it’s going to have a negative impact, he said.

“The employees are not going to get the best that they deserve, the communities are not, the stockholders are not and the environment can suffer as well,” he said.

Gore then launched into his signature presentation, which was captured in An Inconvenient Truth. Following the presentation, he urged participants to take action on climate change, which he called the biggest threat facing the world today.

No silver bullet but ‘silver buckshot’

He said there’s no silver bullet to solve the problem, but there is silver buckshot. A lot of different initiatives, big and small, can combine to reverse the disturbing trend in climate change, he said.

“It’s not a political issue,” said Gore. “It’s a moral issue. We can’t give up on it.”

He said the world has cured polio and smallpox and has taken on racism and segregation. It has beaten apartheid, fascism and brought down the Berlin wall. It even got together to make changes to fix the hole in the ozone layer, which is now almost entirely repaired. He talked about the “greatest generation” — the ones who fought and won the Second World War.

“Now it’s our time,” he said. “There’s so much at stake.”

The world has everything it needs to start reversing the trend, with the possible exception of political will, he said, and “that’s a renewable resource.”

Gore praised the top employers, recognized by Mediacorp as being great places to work, gathered at the conference, which was sponsored in part by Canadian HR Reporter.

“I am so filled with admiration for the spirit in this room and the commitment that I can feel from the companies represented and from you as individuals,” he said. “It’s great to have an opportunity to focus on how to do well and do good at the same time and how to lift up the values that are so much a part of this dialogue here.”

Employer stories ‘inspiring’

Gore, who wasn’t familiar with the Canada’s Top 100 Employers list published by Mediacorp before he got the invitation to come speak, said he wished there was something similar in the U.S.

“It’s really a very healthy and positive event and process and I want to congratulate all of the companies that have been singled out and honoured,” he said. “These stories are so inspiring. I think it’s great.”

Pollution prevention
How you can save the environment at work

Save energy

• Use the stairs instead of the elevator for short trips in order to save electricity and get exercise.

• Turn off lights and computer equipment at the end of the day.

• Use fluorescent instead of incandescent lighting, to save on replacement costs and energy bills.

• Purchase office equipment with automatic power-saving devices.

• Encourage your office manager to reduce operating costs by replacing old equipment with energy efficient fixtures.

Save water

• Ensure taps are turned off tightly to avoid dripping.

• Report any leaks (from toilet tanks and faucets) to the office manager.

• Install water-flow-reducing attachments to faucets to reduce water use.

• Encourage your office manager to replace old equipment with water-efficient fixtures.

Reduce waste.

• Ensure documents and photocopies are double-sided.

• Use e-mail, when possible, to reduce the amount of paper used. Don’t print out every e-mail.

• Instead of discarding old or malfunctioning items, have them refurbished or repaired.

• Take your lunch to work in reusable containers and a reusable lunch bag.

• If they aren’t collected at work, take recyclable and compostable items home.

• Encourage the implementation of a recycling program.

• Organize an informal recycling program if there is no formal program in place.

• Reuse paper that has only been used on one side (for note paper, draft copies or fax messages).

• Reuse office supplies such as envelopes, paper clips, elastic bands, file folders and binders.

• Before throwing items away, see if your colleagues can use them.

• Instead of using disposable cups, use your own reusable coffee mug or glass.

Promote environmental thinking

• Encourage purchases of paper and other office supplies from environmentally conscious manufacturers.

• Use less polluting alternatives when commuting (such as carpooling, riding a bicycle or taking public transit).

• Promote the concept of pollution prevention through projects, letters and papers.

• Plan environmental education events.

Source: Environment Canada, National Office of Pollution Prevention

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