24 August 2008

Kym Murphy: The Muck Stops Here

Kym Murphy was the Corporate Vice President of Environmental Policy from 1990 until 2006, when he retired. Murphy was responsible for many of the Environmentality policies and procedures that have become staples of the Walt Disney Company. In 1991, just a little over a year after becoming the head of the Environmental Affairs Office, Disney News was able to interview Murphy. The entire article from the Fall 1991 issue of the Disney News, authored by Anne K. Okey, is below.

In the past few years more and more emphasis has been put on the role of industry in protecting the Earth’s resources and atmosphere. In March 1990, The Walt Disney Company appointed Kym Murphy to the newly created position of Corporate Vice President of Environmental Policy, thereby committing the corporation to rigorous self-examination and strict adherence to evolving laws affecting waste disposal, emission controls, resource conservation, and other environmental concerns.

Kym Murphy spent much of his boyhood on the beaches of Southern California, body surfing and diving and beginning a lifelong love affair with the sea. “My first job,” he reports, “was collecting and selling soft-shell crabs for a penny each to local bait shops.” At 16 he left home to live and work in an animal hospital. He attended Los Angeles State College, earning his B.S. in Zoology in 1965. His goal then was “to land a job that had anything to do with critters.”

He became an aquarist at Sea World in San Diego in 1965, and held a number of management positions with that company, opening Sea World of Florida in 1972. In 1973 he was named Corporate Technical Director and Corporate Curator of Fishes, Sea World of San Diego, Ohio and Florida.

In 1974 he formed Wet Inc., an aquatic design consulting firm based in San Diego. The Walt Disney Company was among his varied clients. During that time he designed a 1,000,000-gallon underwater filming facility (aquarium) in Bermuda where Columbia Pictures filmed “The Deep.” In fact, this project led to the beginnings of the Living Seas concept. During 1976-77 he also functioned as Director of Operations for Marineland of the Pacific.

In 1978 Murphy officially joined The Walt Disney Company as Project Manager for The Living Seas and The Land pavilions at Epcot Center. In 1984 he was named Corporate Director of Marine Technology at Walt Disney World, concentrating on the operation of The Living Seas.

From 1987 until his newest appointment, Murphy held a succession of creative management positions at Walt Disney Imagineering. During this period he contributed to the design of Typhoon Lagoon, Stormalong Bay and DisneySea.

DISNEY NEWS spoke with Kym Murphy about his new responsibilities.

DN: Why did the Company create and Environmental Affairs Office?
KM: Well first, our Company has always been concerned with environmental issues. That came from Walt himself. When he was starting out in Florida, he brought in the most prestigious environmentalists of the time, including the heads of the Forestry Service and the Audubon Society, to monitor the development of Walt Disney World.

Back then, to be thinking about preserving wetlands was essentially unheard of, but it was one of Walt’s top priorities. He was determined to build the elements of Walt Disney World as part of the existing environment, not at its expense.

At that time, Walt Disney World was considered the hallmark of environmental planning; it was cited as exemplary.

I feel that we have continued to exhibit exemplary environmental ethics, even though we have had to clear some difficult hurdles during the past two years. Federal and state laws have become increasingly complex and challenging. Our people have definitely accepted these challenges enthusiastically and professionally.

Now to answer your question. Some time back, I suggested that we needed a “point person” to keep abreast of environmental issues. But I had thought of it as an Attractions-oriented position. Michael (Eisner, CEO) and Frank (Wells, COO) decided to make it a corporate position. They felt the time had come to address environmental issues from a corporate perspective.

DN: How do you go about organizing and environmental effort in a corporation as large and diverse as Disney?
KM: First of all, when I accepted this position, I discovered that we already had dozens of grassroots efforts underway, along with an amazingly dedicated cadre of individuals that were willing to spend that extra effort to expand our Company’s “Environmentality.” I call these people Disney’s Green Team. Consequently, I decided against creating a singular “enforcement agency.” Instead we’ve developed environmental affairs offices throughout our Company, made up for the most part of people within each specific business unit. Not just for technical applications, but human resources as well. As a result, we have scores of people directly involved and literally thousands of Cast Members directly involved.

We let these offices co-author programs to fit their needs. Each business unit has its own reason for being, its own traditions and personality, so in each case the environmental affairs departments are somewhat different. This gets a lot more people involved in a positive way. It’s a proactive approach.

DN: How have employees reacted to this new emphasis on environmental awareness?
KM: Although we’ve just begun many of our programs, the general attitude and enthusiasm has been fantastic. We give presentations throughout the company on various environmental issues and the turn-out is consistently high. Even when the subject matter may seem dry – like compliance-related paperwork for waste disposal – the people come out in droves. They genuinely want to learn how to take better care of our Company and their planet.

We’ve established a program called “Environmentality,” designed to encourage and recognize our employees for thinking and acting “environ-mentality” at home and on the job. The intention is to introduce or reinforce the idea of “Reduce, Reuse and Recycle” into the everyday consciousness of our Cast Members. By committing to certain behaviors, employees are rewarded with items produced just for this program.

DN: What kinds of rewards do you offer?
KM: For example, when we kicked off this program last January, each company newsletter carried an environmental pledge. Employees completed the pledge, indicating what they would do to protect the environment – like turning off water while brushing their teeth, turning lights off, copying on two sides of the paper, ridesharing, etc. When the pledge was returned, the employee received a coffee mug with our Environmentality logo. We’ve given out more than 30,000 mugs. Participants in our Rideshare program – “Frequent Freeway Flyers” – can accumulate points similar to airline programs which in turn can be redeemed for merchandise at The Disney Stores. The bottom line here is wonderful merchandise and cleaner air.

Future programs will offer t-shirts, golf shirts and a canvas shopping bag.

DN: Why do you think it’s important for Disney to take extra measures to protect the environment?
KM: If you look at the stage we’ve created, you can see that Disney is thought of as much more than just another company. We exemplify what America is all about. Our Theme Parks are noted for cleanliness, friendliness and quality. We owe it to our public and our employees to maintain that same level of concern for environmental quality. Our Company is expected to be the leader.

DN: Many corporations are beginning to establish environmental affairs offices. How do you feel your position differs from others?
KM: Very few environmental affairs officers report directly to the COO and CEO. And that makes a he difference in getting things done. We are fortunate to have a senior management team that is so enthused and supportive of our environmental efforts. As I’m sure you know, Frank is environmentally dedicated, and Michael is equally enthusiastic about our programs.

We’ve been able to commit to not just manpower and suggestions, but dollars as well. We’ve invested in some very expensive equipment to expedite recycling and conservation efforts. We’re also spending a lot of time and money on our employee programs, and it’s paying dividends.

DN: What are some of the most notable changes your department has accomplished so far?
KM: Our recycling of solid waste has increased from a relatively small activity to a very significant one. We have tens of thousands of points of collection throughout our Company. Within each of our divisions we now have the means of collecting white paper, mixed paper, newspaper, aluminum, cardboard, glass, wood, plastic and other recyclable commodities. We are literally diverting millions of pounds from our waste stream for recycling. And we’ve started an experimental program of collecting and recycling Styrofoam; we already have a number of tables, benches, fences, and other items created from the recycled foam. These are second generation products that will last indefinitely. Also, our purchasing departments have made a huge impact by searching out products and services that are environmentally appropriate. In some cases we have actually driven the market, not only to the use of recycled materials, but package and product minimization.

The list of “notable changes” literally goes on and on.

DN: Are there any specific elements that set Disney’s efforts apart from other corporations?
KM: Because of the diversity of our organization we have resources at hand that are not available to other corporations. For example, at Walt Disney World we were able to create the Reedy Creek Improvement District (RCID) which in turn enabled us to implement unique conservation programs and master planning. RCID also has one of the most sophisticated sewage treatment plants in the country; one of the few that involves composting.

The RCID Environmental Laboratory is one of the finest in the country. A staff of 30 scientists constantly monitors all of Walt Disney World’s significant environmental parameters, including air and water quality. They also work closely with state and federal agencies and the scientific community.

And with our film and television companies, we’ve started reviewing scripts in an effort to integrate environmental theming wherever possible and appropriate.

Our diversity gives us a unique opportunity to contribute in a lot of different arenas. My job is to see that we do our best to make the most of that opportunity.

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