Dan Hesse, CEO of Sprint, says that the company’s strong focus on sustainability is paying off in cost savings and long-term brand image — even if customers don’t yet pay attention to whether phones themselves are green.

For any company interested in sustainability efforts, motivation is going to come from many directions. There are cost savings from cutting down on energy usage. PR advantages from getting ranked highly in various sustainability indexes. Competitive edges from helping customers themselves be green.

Dan Hesse, CEO of voice, data and Internet services provider Sprint, is also part of the team that leads the company’s social responsibility efforts. Hesse says that the company has made great strides in all those areas and more, although he does say that the last piece, getting the “consuming public to care that a device is green versus it not being green,” has been surprisingly slow.

“Devices sell well because they're good devices, but they don’t sell because they're green,” Hesse says. Still, invoking the famous line from the movie “Field of Dreams,” he says Sprint’s strategy still is “build it and they will come.”

In a conversation with MIT Sloan Management Review’s Nina Kruschwitz, Hesse explains how Sprint is measuring both the tangibles and intangibles of its efforts, how it’s working with suppliers on eco-innovation and how his hatred of PowerPoint decks is reducing paper usage.

How do you think about sustainability? What do you include in that kind of definition?

Well, let me say it this way. As a brand, we view ourselves as the good guys. It’s in the conversations we have with our employees, in all our meetings. We always try to do the right thing, and we call it “the good guys doing the right thing.” And we use that in everything from philanthropy to innovation to being very open in terms of what applications we let customers download.

We're focused on customer service. If you look at the American Customer Satisfaction Index, we are the most improved U.S. company, period, in customer satisfaction over the last four years. We're number one in the wireless industry, and we were last four years ago.

ACSI studied 47 industries. Not only were we the most improved company in customer satisfaction across all 47 industries, we're the only company that went from last place to first place in their industry in any of those 47 during that period of time.