Interview With Mitch Jackson: Vice-President Of Sustainability, FedEx

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The Penn Sustainability Review editors had the rare opportunity to meet Mr Mitch Jackson, Vice-President of FedEx Corporation’s Environmental Affairs and Sustainability, to discuss corporate sustainability strategy and seek career advice.

Mr Mitch Jackson led the implementation of hybrid-electric vehicles at FedEx and was instrumental in bringing fuel economy standards to reality. Mr Jackson is a recognized leader in corporate sustainability as the past Chairman of the Global Environmental Management Initiative (GEMI) and 2010 Top 100 Thought Leaders in Trustworthy Business Behavior by Trust Across America.

Question 1: How did you begin your career in the sustainability industry?

MJ: I entered the workforce with the academic background of engineering in the late 1980s.  I began with a project management standpoint in engineering, expanded to environmental engineering and, ultimately, ended up in management with FedEx Express in the mid 1990s.  We then began to focus on  “beyond compliance” initiatives with regards to more sustainable solutions for transportation. We were looking down the road to see where we needed to be and aligning ourselves responsibly to get there.

Question 2: As the Vice-President of Sustainability, what do you do on a day-to-day basis at FedEx?

MJ: Here at FedEx, I am responsible for the sustainability strategy and vision to ensure that FedEx minimizes its environmental footprint while still delivering outstanding customer service. This involves collaboration and contact with our operating companies and executive management. The management of these current plans is built upon our strategy for sustainability. My team and I stay in contact with employees about what is underway, short-term plans, and long term strategy.

Question 3: What would yo like to see happen within FedEx in the coming five years regarding sustainability?

MJ: Well, I would like us to continue what we have done in the past five years, while continuing to evolve it and push it forward. Also to increase the growing understanding that this is part of what FedEx does everyday- the role of connecting the world responsibly and resourcefully. I would like to continue to communicate – to the public and to the FedEx team – that it’s not just about fuel usage, but about allowing connections around the world to happen responsibly; bettering lives globally by connecting markets responsibly and efficiently.

Question 4: What are the critical issues and challenges facing corporate sustainability in the next five years?

MJ: It’s for those individuals in it to determine what the strategy for sustainability is within their organizations. It’s not just to minimize their footprint, but also to strive for long-term growth with sustainable considerations in mind. There must be balance between their organization’s prime mission and responsible action within the communities with which they interact.

Question 5: What are the trends facing corporate sustainability practices in the future?

MJ: I think it will continue to increase in importance, primarily because of the interconnectedness of markets and global commerce, but also because of resource demands. As the developing world continues to develop, the resource demands will increase. I think these forces will absolutely increase pressures for more sustainable organizations. I do fear companies falling into the trap, however, of simply using sustainability as a public relations strategy, as opposed to an actual core objective.

Question 6: As a follow up, do you think it is easier to enact sustainable change within an established company or with a growing one?

MJ: You don’t want to make a company what it’s not; you have to leverage the strengths and ethos you have already. For instance, GE created the Ecomagination program to merge their core business philosophy of innovation with sustainable and responsible business ideas. A company should integrate sustainable practices with their business mission.\

Question 7: What yould you change in your career if given the chance?

MJ: Written the Great American Novel! But seriously, I’m happy with where I am. I’m doing something different than what I was doing 7 years ago, and that was different from what I was doing 7 years before that. Both my work and I have grown from the scope and responsibilities of what I have undertaken.

Question 8: What would your advice be to pre-professional students with and interest in corporate sustainability?

MJ: I would simply warn that it is easy to fall into the trap of “silos” and focus on one aspect of a thorny issue alone. Sustainability is one of those thorny, complicated issues. My point would be to understand the need to balance the environmental, social, and economic aspects in order to be successful and sustainable. Think of a three-legged stool. If we only focus upon one of the legs to strengthen, while continuing to add weight, it’s the other two legs that are going to fail. It’s true that you had one very strong leg; but to what end? The stool still collapsed. To conclude with what I said earlier, my role at FedEx isn’t solely to reduce jet or vehicle fuel usage, but to also help connect markets, and people, in the most efficient ways possible.

Question 9: What has been the most influential lesson you have learned while in the industry?

MJ: How about we try that in a few years? I’ve learned that you should never stop learning. And, maybe that lesson is still to come.

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Source: Penn Sustainability Review

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