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Posted 11.2.05

Quoting T.S. Elliot “only those who risk going too far will ever know how far they can go”, Katherine Bader, chairman, president and CEO of NatureWorks, LLC, told participants at the 2005 BSR Conference she believes the act of questioning core assumptions and paradigms to be the agents of change.

Bader’s motto “Think Big or Don’t Bother” fits well for a woman running the company that invented the corn-based resin technology used in packaging by companies seeking the benefits of plastics from an annually renewable resource. 99% of plastic is made from oil, so Bader’s revolutionary plastic made from simple corn sugars provides an annually renewable resource for the product. She sees turning CSR into action as hard choices, leadership, process, and responsibility. The corn sugar is fermented and distilled into lactic acid. It is then polymerized (lactide) and turned into corn plastic.

“Companies must overcome the inbred fear of risk and lead rather than follow; they must become masters of the change management process,” said Bader. “Leaders must aspire, inspire, and perspire.”

To achieve this goal, leaders must be able to manage complex change. Bader believes if a company doesn’t have the right action plan it will have lot of false starts, not enough organization, and lots of turnover due to very frustrated employees. It requires a rigorous process for change to happen and leaders must know what they are working toward and where they are at any given moment in that process. She says a prioritization matrix creates and aligns resources against the matrix and creates an action plan. Then there must be a monthly review of how the company is doing on the action plan.

“Dream Big – Be Bold,” said Bader. “Push the envelope in all aspects of your business. Questioning core assumptions can’t be a one time event. Want to change the world? Great! But sometimes you have to start with the smallest disposable item and move up.”

That small item for Nature Works was a simple, plastic cup, the first product they made. It is hard to control supply chain costs, so Bader believes companies have to strive to improve their own internal profile. She sees the quadruple bottom line as customers, employees, value to shareholders and society. If companies make these ideas a part of their process and their commitment to practice, they will succeed.

By Janet Roberts

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