Lifetime of Achievement: Wayne S. Balta

With a 40-year career that is as sustainable as the programmes he has created, IBM’s Wayne S. Balta is a genuine powerhouse in the ESG world

In sporting terminology, Wayne S. Balta is a one club man.

However, while some sporting stars lose their edge if they stay put, Balta’s 40-year career at IBM has only seen upticks in his energy and innovation levels.

Balta is a legend in the world of big business sustainability: his face is instantly recognised by his peers and his ideas are received with respect.

Having joined IBM in 1984, when the likes of Ronald Reagan, Margaret Thatcher and Helmut Kohl were world leaders and George Orwell’s novel was no longer the future, Balta settled in for the long haul.

The fork in the road

At first, Balta’s IBM career was as a real estate and construction project manager. Within five years, he became executive assistant to the corporate vice president of global real estate.

Then, in 1989, came the fork-in-the-road moment.

IBM's CEO raised the then-unheralded subject of environmentalism and Balta’s boss turned to him for assistance.

Balta dived headfirst at the challenge and, in 1990, he presented a portion of a proposed strategy, which included a recommendation to establish a corporate environment team.

He said: “I was so captivated by the breadth of the strategy we developed that I decided I wanted to be part of that new corporate staff we were recommending.”

Onwards and upwards

The move was to become a career-definer and Balta’s upward trajectory was unstoppable.

He soon became IBM’s Director of Corporate Environmental Affairs and, in 1997, helped IBM become the first major multinational company to earn single global registration to the ISO 140001 standard for environmental management.

Speaking to Carnegie Mellon University, Balta said: “Our management system is what guides IBM employees all over the world, over 300,000 of them, to keep environmental leadership in mind as part of whatever their daily job may be.

“It integrates and institutionalises environmental leadership into the fabric of IBM’s business and our company's culture. That's what I leave behind. That will outlive everything else I do.”

His career has been punctuated by numerous honours and leadership roles.

Treading the Boards

He has served as Vice Chairman of the Board of the Environmental Law Institute five times and as Chairman of the Board of the World Environment Center.

Balta has also been a member and past Chairman of The Conference Board's Chief Environment, Health & Safety Officers Council.

Other memberships include the Governing Consortium for the UN Environment Programme’s Science Policy Business Forum, the Sustainability Advisory Board for the Smeal College of Business at Penn State University and the Strategic Advisory Council for the University of Michigan’s Erb Institute for Global Sustainable Enterprise.

A host of honours

As for honours, 2012 saw Balta named a White House Champion of Change for his efforts to advance corporate environmental sustainability.

He received the inaugural Lifetime Achievement Award from the National Association for Environmental Management in 2018 and, in the following year, he was elected to the National Academy of Engineering, also serving on its Civil Engineering Peer Committee.

Before IBM, in 1982 Balta received a Bachelor of Science degree in civil engineering with University Honors from Carnegie Mellon University, where he now serves on the Dean’s Advisory Council for the College of Engineering.

He was the recipient of Carnegie Mellon University’s Distinguished Alumni Service Award in 2009 and earned a Master of Science degree in civil engineering from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (where he was a Tau Beta Pi Fellow) in 1984.


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