Lance Corporals & Sustainability- Impact Delivered
I think about Lance Corporals first anytime I reflect on who fights America’s wars. Lance Corporal’s for the uninitiated is a junior Marine Corps rank where women and men are expected to know their job but are not yet expected to lead others. Think of these women and men as the Marine Corps' workhorses whose singular purpose is to execute orders and deliver results.
I visualize a young Lance Corporal sitting on the edge of his bed in the early morning
hours lacing up his boots anytime I think about what our country asks of its warriors. That Marine is getting ready to step off and start another day guarding some hot and dusty pedestrian and vehicle checkpoint. I try to imagine what must be going through that young man’s mind as he prepares to face down another day enduring incredible risks. The next person through his checkpoint may open fire, or detonate his or her car.
What is it that allows this young man to spend months lacing up those boots just to spend his workday standing vigilant in the protection of others?
Lance Corporals also make me think about the images we have all seen of Marines stacked up outside the door of some Iraqi building. Everyone has their guns pointing out, covering down on potential threats as those closest to the door get ready to breach and make entry. The Lance Corporal's job is not to lead the unit through the door but to provide the muscle and violence of action necessary to secure the structure. The fundamentals most of us follow when assessing a job opportunity merely is, what do they want me to do and how much are they willing to pay? The assessment process young men and women go through when considering whether to become a Marine will seem foreign by contrast and almost foolhardy to the uninitiated. A young person considering becoming a combat Marine already knows that they will be tasked to do dangerous work and won’t be paid much for their effort.
Most would assume that a young person would accept such high risks for so little money because they feel called to serve. I would proffer that this reasoning is oversubscribed and that the real reasons women and men join are much more elemental. They join Marine combat units because of the weighted average they calculated for just three reasons. They want to be challenged, seek adventure and would like to put some distance between them and home.
The reasons that get men and women to volunteer to lace up those boots and defend a checkpoint or stack up outside a door aren't what keeps them there. Suddenly, their need to be challenged and to have an adventure has been well exceeded, and they are sitting in a desert thousands of miles and a world away from home. Suddenly, these young Marines find themselves regularly attending memorial services for those they knew and many more they never met. This is the point at which the pure motivations that drove them to become combat Marines fall away and are replaced by higher ideals. These men and women now only have their sense of duty to the mission and each other to propel them through the dangers and uncertainties that define their daily existence.
The civilian experience, absent a few selfless and under compensated professions, isn't positioned to offer people the strong sense of mission and purpose that Lance Corporals depend on every day to see them through. Most of us merely balance a particular job opportunity’s endemic pain points to its proposed compensation and determine whether it is a worthy trade. This approach to our working lives is reasonable since it is after all called work. But what if we civilians could have a more rewarding reason to lace up our boots or stack up on our proverbial doors?
I, for reasons I’ll get into someday, find myself caught up in viewing the world through a unique lens that comes from bringing together my military experience and thinking about everything in sustainability terms. This means that I have taken the ability Uncle Sam instilled to assess threats and apply that skill to everyday risks to our health, environment and ultimately our happiness and security. I can no longer drive by a coal-fired power plant without wondering about the concentric threat rings that emanate out from its smokestacks and waste impoundments. I wonder what risk levels communities face for cancer, respiratory problems and water quality standards as a function of their proximity to the power plant, prevailing wind patterns, and hydrology. Replace the threats pollution pose with those of enemy combatants, and you have the military’s risk assessment and mission planning processes.
I recommend that individuals steer clear of a work life that’s subsumed by thoughts about public health and environmental concerns but not companies. A company culture that embraces sustainability as one of its core tenants will offer its employees the opportunity to contribute to a mission that’s greater than self. We all want the chance to come home from work and feel that more was accomplished than just earning a living and enjoying the occasional piece of employee birthday celebration sheet cake. Hard work is more rewarding when we can see those efforts as contributing to a higher purpose.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not intimating that recycling bins and LED lights can offer parity between the work most of us do and that of battle-tested Lance Corporals. I am merely suggesting that a company that embraces internal and operational sustainable practices will benefit from increased employee job satisfaction, resulting in improved productivity.
Take for example my chosen profession, renewable energy. I work on the sales side of this burgeoning industry where I help families, non-profits, and businesses harness Orlando’s abundant sunshine. I have worked for two great solar companies and am continually engaging with colleagues from across the field. I have yet to experience a solar company culture that goes beyond just the naked marketing value installing clean energy provides to be a sustainability-driven values and practices company. Take every solar company sales meeting I have ever attended. We focus on sales goals, sales training, and increasing operational efficiency but make no attempt to imbue our team with a sense of pride and higher purpose.
What if we talked about our sales successes and goals not just concerning capacity installed and commissions earned but also impact delivered? We should be educating our sales teams about the tangible impacts each employee has every time another solar array goes live. Disregard carbon offsets and talk about how our efforts are remaking how people power their lives. Slowly and ever so subtly, people will start to embrace a purpose of task that transcends paychecks and sheet cakes.
Stonyfield Yogurt’s Co-founder Gary Hirshberg has said that the innovations his company pioneered in the name of sustainability also served to save money and improve operations. A corporate culture that champions sustainable principles fosters an innovative environment in which efforts to reduce waste and inefficiencies become competitive advantages. For example, maybe the greatest way for a solar company to best its competitors is by being an energy efficiency consultant first.
A company that reduces a potential client’s energy demands will have a distinct competitive advantage over a competitor that ignores efficiency and proposes a more extensive and thus more expensive solar array solution. Recommending to customers that they invest in more energy efficient lighting and equipment as well as adopt smarter operational practices creates a competitive cost advantage. Competitive business practices are easier to come by when everyone has a purpose that goes beyond just turning their individual cogs.
A solar company or your local organic, free trade, cage-free bakery are undoubtedly low hanging fruit when it comes to embracing sustainability but most employees value serving a higher purpose regardless of their enterprise. There is an Orlando orthodontist clinic that has installed a great yet hard to see solar array. What if Dr. Weeks built on his first step toward embracing clean energy by adding car chargers? This minor additional investment would bring greater visibility to his clean energy revolution and provide a valuable community service that just might attract new customers. Suddenly everyone that works at this practice goes from merely being in the teeth straightening business to also living and advocating for a healthier Orlando community. Small businesses serve an influential role and are therefore particularly well positioned to promote sustainable practices and technologies.
There has been more than one instance in which I share my blog with someone, and their first response is "That's great, I'm glad you found your passion." I thank them for their encouragement then politely insist that any passions I had run their course some years ago. I instead write about sustainable principles, practices, and impacts from a cold-blooded business perspective. Companies, businesses, and individuals should undoubtedly adopt sustainability principles for altruistic reasons alone but invoking such a lofty justification isn’t necessary. We should view leveraging sustainability as a way to foster a stronger team, gain a competitive advantage and win business. It is okay to feign interest in solar panels, LED lighting and car charging stations if doing so creates a more rewarding and mission-driven team. So go ahead, give it a try and let me know how it works out!
Mark’s Author notes:
I am uncertain as to why my subconscious chose Lance Corporals to embody what it means to be a warrior in the purest sense of the word. I know a lot of Marines but never a Marine myself. Perhaps it is because these young women and men are often asked to sacrifice the most yet stand to gain the least. They aren’t necessarily driven to press the fight out of the obligation leaders feel to set the example and lead from the front. They don’t stand much chance of being recognized for their actions short of them performing the most heroic of acts. Senior leaders and members of special operations units are often celebrated for the responsibility they carry and missions accomplished, but very few Lance Corporals ever find themselves on those pedestals. These women and men who embody the Marine Corps’ faceless masses are merely tasked with pressing the fight and looking out for those to their left and right.
I have tried my best to accurately depict the role Lance Corporals play in Marine combat units. My efforts included asking the Marines I know who have walked in those shoes to confirm, deny or modify my assertions. It appears that my outsider generalizations were pretty apt though I’m sure there is still room for a nuanced debate about a few subtle points. Please feel free to take up those points with my subconscious!
Massachusetts Marine Reservists
I had the distinct pleasure of working with a Marine Reservist unit from Massachusetts that upended every assertion this post made about why women and men decide to join the corps. These Massachusetts Marines were successful mid-career professionals with families who joined solely to serve their country in its time of need. They sidelined their own lives just to answer their country’s call to arms as 9/11 still weighed heavily on America’s conscious. Many in the unit were disappointed that they were tasked with providing security for a distant outpost rather than engaging the enemy but more than a few of those Marines also told me they were honored just to have the opportunity to serve.