10 Tips for a Sustainability Intrapreneur

Gopi KrishnanThis blog was posted on behalf of Gopi Krishnan, a Systems Engineer in the Internet of Things Group at Intel.   He is passionate about resource conservation and considers himself a sustainability “intrapreneur” by engaging and collaborating with other employees to drive grass roots sustainability focused projects within the company. He holds a Ph.D. in mechanical engineering from the University of Colorado-Boulder. Following graduation he was a post-doctoral researcher at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory in Golden, CO., in the Advanced Vehicles Research Group.


I work at Intel where in parallel to my job as a systems engineer in the Internet of Things (IOT) Group, I drive a few grassroots environmental sustainability initiatives within the company.

The past four years, I’d like to think I’ve been successful in engaging and collaborating with other employees on low budget, and high impact sustainability focused projects without any formal authority, that include:

  1. The Intel Sustainability Leaders Speaker Series: a company-wide speaker series where leaders from Intel and beyond are invited to share their views on the environment and education.
  2. Project eARTh: (http://intel.com/earthday)A global, collaborative, visual experience that showcases the diversity in Intel’s corporate citizenship, employee leadership, and community engagement for sustainability action.
  3. Project MERI (Mobile E-waste Recovery Initiative) : A financially sustainable electronic waste recovery program in schools.
  4. IOT for Energy Conservation:Applying IOT technology towards energy conservation in manufacturing

Given this, I’d like to share 10 tips that I hope will help you negotiate the corporate environment when you are trying to institute sustainability change from within.

Tip 1: Look Within

Look beyond the traditional bastions of sustainability within a company and explore opportunities in your own area of expertise and influence, be it in manufacturing, supply chain, communications, marketing etc. You are likely to have the greatest impact on your community when you find the intersection of your personal values, corporate goals, and skill set.

Tip 2: Build relationships

Be curious about the world around you and try and meet people at different levels in the company to understand how their role ties into sustainability, what their constraints are, and how they perceive the larger global environmental sustainability issues. If the opportunity exists, offer to help them solve a small problem, for you will be rewarded multiple times over in new insights.

Tip 3: Start Small – Aim Big

When proposing to solve a big problem start with a small pilot project and a low budget, if any. This allows you to stay under the radar, learn what doesn’t work, and build some momentum. This is an excellent low risk opportunity to fail and learn. Then if required seek out grants and seed money to expand the program as large as you find potent.

Tip 4: Go it alone – Work with others

Prior to proposing projects and solutions spend some solitary time exploring pertinent questions to ask. Then seek council with others to solicit new ideas and bounce ideas off. When implementing sustainability projects find a core group of individuals passionate to the cause who can truly invest their time and energy. In addition, engender the support of other volunteers who individually may not have significant time to contribute, however, cumulatively are a substantial resource.

Tip 5. Do not take NO at face value

When proposing new ideas you will likely face some disagreement possibly in the name of, “it has been done before, or “we can’t do that on account of resources, time, money, not a priority etc.”  Do not accept NO for face value. Understand the rationale, and if relevant explore and propose alternatives in the project scope, timing, and budget.

Tip 6. Seek advisers and mentors

It is likely that you are in the company of other sustainability champions. Seek them out to get feedback, introductions, or general direction for they will provide perspective from a lens of both time and expertise. Do not be daunted by the standing of some of the most senior champions in the organization, for they are often the most generous with their time.

Tip 7. Align with corporate goals

For maximum success align projects with your company’s sustainability goals. The key is to apply new thinking or approaches to address the corporate goals. This will give you more traction and prevent you from fighting the system. When trying to align to corporate goals remember that while revenue and cost savings are important, reputation and brand are equally central to a company.

Tip 8. Shed the Engineering God Complex

Replace the word engineering with business or policy or the like and you have an often found short sighted notion that a single discipline (e.g. technologists) may provide the solution to all sustainability problems. Sustainability problems are complex and disparate without single point solutions. Be humble and partner with people with different backgrounds, be it the communications, CSR (Corporate Social Responsibility), marketing etc. who are all essential to truly driving a solution.

Tip 9: Partner with the community

Explore the world outside your company as it provides an opportunity to understand sustainability related problems and solutions that others have, and appreciate where in the community the support of a company’s resources and skilled volunteers may be most beneficial.

Top 10: Share your learning & networks

The help and advice of other sustainability champions and leaders continue to be seminal in my and other intrapreneurs journey in implementing grass roots sustainability projects. So, to make the transition easier for others in becoming effective sustainability contributors, share your network and what you know, which includes what worked and what didn’t.

I’ll close with a quote that continues to inspire me as I hope it does you as well.

“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.” – -Margaret Mead

I’d welcome your comments, and other tips you may like to share with the community.