Sustainability expert Roger Saillant sets sights on turning CWRU into global authority
By Thomas Skernivitz
Northeast Ohio’s burgeoning sustainability community now has its LeBron James to hammer home the message.
Roger Saillant, a nationally recognized authority in renewable energy and sustainability, in November became the executive director of the Fowler Center for Sustainable Value. The center —part of the Weatherhead School of Management at Case Western Reserve University — works with businesses, organizations, and economic regions to discover the power and promise of sustainability as an innovation engine.
Case Western officials couldn’t be more elated with the acquisition. Ron Fry, the chair of Weatherhead’s department of organizational behavior, calls the school “very fortunate.” Saillant, meanwhile, is equally enthusiastic.
“What the center has done in the past on such limited resources is impressive,” he says. “With a strong foundation on our commitment to whole-systems thinking, the Fowler Center is poised to become the best and most advanced sustainability center in the world, with a focus not only on long-term business profitability but also on a harmonious future for all.”
Saillant’s corporate experience includes senior executive roles with Ford Motor Co. and Visteon Corp. Most recently he served seven years as CEO of Plug Power, a fuel-cell company based near Albany, N.Y.
“From my past work, I have come to believe that people want to feel a part of something greater than themselves, that people want to feel like they’re improving, and that, generally, people are interested in prosperity and harmony, without harming others,” Saillant says. “I want to expand the concept of ‘others’ to include the entire biological community and peoples of the world that our existence is so intimately bound to. Northeast Ohio has a great opportunity to build on its human capital and resources to create a truly sustainable culture. I will dedicate all of myself and all of my past experience to help make that happen.”
The Fowler Center preaches the core concepts of appreciative inquiry and sustainable value. The appreciative inquiry method — invented at Case Western in the 1980s by Fry and current faculty director David Cooperrider — identifies the unique strengths of individuals, businesses, and systems and leverages and unites those strengths to greater effect throughout whole systems. “The work in appreciative inquiry and whole-systems change methods … is unique,” Saillant says, noting the center’s affiliations with the United Nations, the City of Cleveland, and several Northeast Ohio businesses.
Saillant lauded Cleveland’s “grassroots groundswell” in sustainability, saying the “real surprise” upon arriving at Case Western was discovering how many people and organizations, such as Entrepreneurs for Sustainability (E4S), were passionate about sustainability.
“I have never seen such widespread dedication to sustainability in any other city in the United States,” he says. “Entrepreneurs for Sustainability caught my eye immediately as an example of a sustainability-focused grassroots organization that is really unique to the world.
“The work that that organization has done to mainstream sustainable practices in business and community life throughout Northeast Ohio cannot be underestimated — to have a network of more than 4,000 businesses committed to the E4S vision is to have spread the germ of sustainability in a way that will not retrograde. It’s viral, not because it’s online but because it’s person-to-person, business-to-business proselytizing.”
Saillant has spent his first three months in Cleveland meeting with local business leaders.
“We’ll be building on the work the Fowler Center has been doing, and in the near-term we’ll be seeking many business partners for our work,” he says. “Long-term we’ll be striving to change mindsets and promote values that lead to a prosperous and harmonious future for all, globally. This is deliberately vague, because I am in the process of gathering input from local leaders, business people, educators, local civic leaders, and entrepreneurs before making our next steps known.”
In any case, Saillant is optimistic.
“I lived in Detroit for more than 20 years, and thus I feel at home in post-industrial regions. I’m excited to be in a place where people are really moving from the past and thinking creatively about the future.”
For more information: weatherhead.case.edu/fowler