As social innovators focus on ways to create, optimize, and measure impact, a natural question arises as to what kind of impact should be pursued. Should you set goals that are attainable and within reach? Or should you strive for impact that is far-reaching and is perhaps beyond what your startup or organization even has capacity to meet with its current resources?Darcy Winslow, a systemic change expert and visionary who introduced key sustainability measures within Nike, explained the nuances between planning for change and designing for transformation. She spoke at the inaugural Strategic Execution Conference hosted by IPS Learning and Stanford University on April 24, 2013.Her talk was impassioned, intimate, and impactful in sharing her personal narrative in sustainability as well as her commitment to creating a culture for sustainable innovation within organizational infrastructure.

 

Darcy’s experience at Nike & the Shambhala Initiative

Darcy spoke about her 20 year career at Nike, which included a number executive roles. When her team was approached to define the impact Nike shoe production was having on the environment and landfills—she was surprised to hear that the equivalent of one shoe of waste was created with the production of each pair of shoes, and that over the course of a year millions of gallons of oil were used to produce Nike’s various lines of athletic gear.

She set forth to shift the company from the inside. Forming a team to address social impact, they established the Nike Shambhala Initiative–an ambitious strategy to re-think Nike operations centered around aspirational sustainability goals.

The goals that Nike set were not intended to reward or recognize themselves for picking low-hanging fruit. They demanded 0 waste, 0 toxics, 100% closed loop systems and other key sustainability deliverables by 2020.

I found myself noting that the plan was markedly ambitious, increasing the chance of failing to reach those high-level goals. Darcy reframed the issue as she explained the power of transformational change.

What is makes change transformational?

Darcy shared her view that any change that seeks less than an all-or-nothing results is not transformational–and is just a matter of degree. For a leading company such as Nike, she knew that a change of degree of impact was not enough. If Nike was going to get into the corporate social responsibility (CSR) movement, it would have to do so in a transformational way.

How social innovators can incorporate transformational change goals

Darcy’s talk introduced the concept of a transformational change mindset.
When we seek to transform, rather than just gradually alter ourselves or our ventures there is a different approach, mindset, and energy that is employed. It is as though we must change from within to create change in results—and the process can be transformational at an individual as well as organizational level.
The goal of creating zero waste rather than reducing waste by 50% creates a different purpose, easy measuring stick, and clearly-defined goals. These can trickle down throughout the organization. If the goal was instituted in manufacturing setting, each team of engineers would be clear that their stage of production should yield 0 waste versus and intermediate amount of waste.
Of course, sustainability is often a product of evolution and iteration. So in addition to setting transformational change goals, it is essential to provide enough time to work to that change. When the Shambhala Initiative was introduced, the goal set was 2020–giving two decades to evolve innovation and internal practices to meet the aspirational milestones.

Video of Darcy Winslow, Nike Foundation

You can take a look at Darcy speak briefly at her role with Nike in this short video.

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