May 10, 2011 Vol. 4, Issue 3
Leaders from NASA, the White House, and industry tackled the challenge of organizational sustainability.
While the issue of organizational sustainability is commonplace today, it wasn’t always that way.
The eighth Masters with Masters event featured Olga Dominguez, NASAs assistant administrator for the Office of Strategic Infrastructure, Michelle Moore, Federal Environmental Executive with the White House Council on Environmental Quality, and Dr. Brian Nattrass, co-founder of Sustainability Partners and author of several books on sustainability. Academy Director Dr. Ed Hoffman moderated the conversation before a live audience at NASA Headquarters.
One of the key challenges of addressing organizational sustainability is communicating in the correct language, the guests agreed. “How do you get the importance of sustainability across to program and project managers?” Dominguez asked rhetorically. She went on to say that framing the issue in the language of NASA—risk to mission cost, schedule, and success—was critical to initiating a conversation about organizational sustainability.
Moore defined sustainability as a systems challenge, where solving for the whole and thinking across disciplines is critical to developing expertise in the field. “Being able to solve problems as systems challenges as opposed to silo challenges are two ideas that I really think you have to bring to the table,” she said.
One measure of an organization’s commitment to sustainability is the extent to which its strategic planning reflects those concerns, the practitioners agreed. “It is fundamental to support the work of the organization,” said Nattrass. When he worked with the U.S. Army on a project, the customer made it very clear that its primary mission was to support the United States and its allies. He recalled the customer saying, “If you can show me how sustainability supports our mission, then we can be friends.” It was that simple.
Ultimately, sustainability problems pose a multidisciplinary challenge. “One of the cool things about sustainability is that it really creates an opportunity for innovation,” said Dominguez. From green IT to telework to “green” spacecraft, the guests agreed that sustainability is becoming embedded in organizational practices at NASA and across the government.