Q&A With Tim Mohin

Tim Mohin, director of corporate responsibility for Advanced Micro Devices (AMD), thinks business and the environment can be harmonious pursuits. His decades-long-and-counting career is a case in point.

Before AMD, he spent 10 years in government shoring up air-quality protections, then he led sustainability efforts at Intel and Apple. Along the way, the corporate sustainability arena expanded its scope to the broader field of corporate social responsibility (CSR).

His forthcoming book, Changing Business From the Inside Out: A Treehugger’s Guide to Working in Corporations (Greenleaf Publishing/Berrett-Koehler, available 15 May 2012), is a highly readable compendium of lessons learned and detailed steps about how to run today’s corporate responsibility (CR) office.

Dukenvironment
sat down and talked with him about his book.

Dukenvironment:

Okay, now on to your book. It reads like a handbook, full of good advice for the CSR professional and beyond. What was the impetus for writing it?

Mohin:

You have to learn before you teach. And maybe this will sound a little sour grapes-like but there are a lot of sustainability and CSR books out there, and I’d say the vast majority are from people who haven’t actually worked in CSR. So the reality is different from what’s being published.

Being a board member of Net Impact, I know there’s a legion of young people who want to work in something bigger than themselves. But the reality of being an environmentalist inside a big company can be a steep learning curve. Especially if they’re reading some of these more academic sustainability treatises, they might come away thinking, well, this is easy, and not get a full picture of what it’s really like. So the idea behind the book is, as you said, to be a handbook or a manual, with step-by-step instructions for practicing CR.

Dukenvironment:

Your book draws on a wealth of experience, but if you had to cite several key themes, what would they be?

Mohin:

Two things: capabilities and content. I talk about how to build the essential capabilities for corporate responsibility. What’s interesting is that these skills also have value for other careers. The second is content — the book lays out what you actually do in a step-by-step way. It starts with setting the strategy then gets into the programs and processes. One I would highlight, because it’s growing fast, is supplier responsibility. There are actually two chapters on that.

From my career in Apple it became very clear to me that, as business continues to outsource and globalise, the responsibility for labour, human rights, environmental health, safety, is falling to companies. And so it is the people in corporate responsibility jobs who must ensure that labour, health, safety and environmental expectations are met.

The exciting thing is that this change happens faster [in the corporate sphere than in government], and I think it’s more effective because it’s truly global. In government, there’s legislation, regulation, litigation and finally you get to some sort of action — but the only leverage is through enforcement, which some companies may not view as a threat, and even then, it’s only within a certain jurisdiction. With companies it’s global and covers a broad range of issues — including environmental, health, safety, ethics, labour and human rights. Also things happen more quickly because suppliers will typically do what it takes to keep the business. Business can be far more effective as a motivator; as I say in the book, it comes down to “our dollars, our values.” In my experience working within a corporation, nothing moves people faster than economic reality.

Read the full interview here.

Tim Mohin is director of Corporate Responsibility for Advanced Micro Devices (AMD) and the author of the forthcoming book, Changing Business from the Inside Out: The Treehugger’s Guide to Working in Corporations.

Pre-order your copy of Changing Business from the Inide Out direct from Greenleaf Publishing and receive 30% pre-publication discount (offer ends 14 May 2012).

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