Mottainai: The Green Mindset?

Mottainai: The Green Mindset?


This may well be remembered as the year when the impact of human expansion into our natural environment has become internalized by the masses. Freak storms, unusual weather, gas prices and energy costs tell the story more poignantly than bold headlines.

This year and next may also be remembered as the years when environmental stewardship appears as new corporate values and—perhaps in the near term—corporate transparency and position related to these global issues become as ubiquitous as the Sarbanes-Oxley Act and similar regulations.

Mottainai is a Japanese term that embodies reverence and respect for things, including the 5R mantra of “Reduce, Reuse, Recycle, Refuse, Repair” and a sense of loss derived from waste.

Japan has a very different philosophy regarding environmental consciousness and the importance of the community and corporate community being aware of these issues. I have a theory that this emanates from the small-island(s) mentality and an early realization of the need to preserve and manage resources. Many of these organizations put out an annual environmental report of some kind. It requires transparency regarding their own emotions and gets reinforced by commitments from the leadership on what they’re doing to continuously improve. Obviously, there is much we can learn from the advances and systems in place in the Japanese corporate responsibility culture.

The challenge for most organizations is how to connect corporate values to these more global issues, institutionally and emotionally engaging the workforce to innovate, gain cost efficiencies and manage the environmental stewardship of the communities where the business operates. To be “green” is good public relations, good business and increasingly important to the workforce.

In my experience over the past 12 years of doing Web- and computer- based training, the general premise always has been cost cutting. This year, we’re excited to see many companies approach e-learning on the premise of reducing their carbon footprint, being smarter and faster, and connecting with employee values.

Other than e-learning as a vehicle for environmentally conscious, sustainable approaches, we’re also seeing these values emerge as content. In some cases, we’ve run entire campaigns through e-learning and Web 2.0 techniques (like getting sales consultants to do product presentations on video, having peers vote online for the best ones, and using those as expert content for elearning). Result: less travel, less stand-up, more ability to distribute globally, and lots of interpersonal contact.

Being green, or embodying Mottainai, can take three dimensions as it pertains to human development and training.


E-learning lends itself in its very nature to be greener than traditional training methods. Thus, wherever possible, e-learning can minimize the carbon footprint that is often associated with training due to travel and/or printed resources.

>>Wherever print support materials are needed, they can be first provided as an on-demand Web-based resource or job aid, printed on a page-by-page basis rather than an entire book.

>> For progressive companies, traditional printing can be under-taken using soy ink on FSC-certified mixed-sources paper from well-managed forests, with no petroleum solvents or heavy metals used in the printing process.

>> For larger organizations, e-learning can be a method of calculating carbon footprint and used to reduce carbon credit needs.


E-learning is also a great vehicle for delivering “green” training and making organizations conscious of the need for stewardship as well as the impact of individual changes for a corporation and an organization at large. Increasingly, some of the largest companies in the world are turning on the green.

For instance, Wal-Mart in mid-July Shocked many of its peers when CEO Lee Scott pushed out a new plan to revamp the organization’s environmental approach.

Even in the automotive sector, often seen as a wasteful industry, more companies are using e-learning to educate and empower their workforce to innovate while focusing on sustainability. In the 2008 new-employee orientation course for Chrysler, CEO Bob Nardelli contextualizes corporate values by providing employees a way to connect with green values. Nardelli’s approach is to start with an explanation of what it means to be environmentally conscious globally, within a given country (the U.S.A.), within an industry (automotive), within a company (the “new” Chrysler) and then what it means personally. The point being that each dimension is unique, each industry has its own compliance, each country its own demons. But all of that is just awareness— making agents of change happens when individuals are asked: What does it mean to you and what will you do about it?

Chrysler is not alone in turning to greener thinking.

Media Genesis started developing a comprehensive curriculum for a diversified automotive supplier based in Japan with over a 250,000 employees worldwide. The purpose? To contextualize the growing societal and environmental crisis and to explain the organization’s commitments and the reporting methods, documentation and process that the organization uses to constantly improve its green and sustainable approaches.


Perhaps most creatively, the 5R mantra— Recycle, Reuse, Reduce, Refuse and Repair —can also be applied to e-learning. After all, the Advanced Distributed Learning ( SCORM model is all about reusable learning objects organized to reduce learning time to just what the learner needs. In effect, curriculum is recycled, and instead of having siloed courses for each skill set or competency, curriculum can be rearranged on the fly through re-sequencing the learning objects (Sharable Content Objects or SCOs). Since the content is highly portable and compatible, it can be taken to other learning management systems (like affiliates and suppliers) and redistributed. Based on the smaller structure of learning objects, they can be more easily repaired rather than having to overhaul an entire course and its corresponding navigation.

The fourth R, (Refuse) is hardest, because it forces managers of training to refuse to use techniques that are wasteful when better options are available.

While human resource professionals are responsible for developing human capital, a new responsibility has arisen where successful companies can re-think how they can positively affect the world around them. Learning within organizations is an essential aspect of the development of human capital. Previously, the training footprint that corporate trainers and learning agents have left behind has had a resonating impact on the environment. The opportunity and technology for “greener learning” is now readily at our disposal and waiting to be utilized.

Companies can make commitments to greener learning and embody Mottainai, employing the 5R’s and cutting the carbon footprint they leave. In addition, these philosophies of efficiency and consciousness about resources are values that should resonate soundly with the mission of any organization in this economic climate.

After all, if we’re trained to be wasteful with our natural resources as individuals, how can we expect to be better stewards of corporate resources?

 —The author is president of e-learning provider Media Genesis ( He helped develop Chrysler’s new-employee orientation course. Reach him via e-mail at or via telephone at (248) 687-7888.

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