Give them Sustainability without Compromise

Sustainability sounded good when money was flowing in. But now that the economy is broken, business sustainability is taking a back seat to business survival. However, now more than ever, this is a time to advance your business case for sustainability as a top-line and bottom-line strategy for not just survival, but long-term growth and profitability.

The triple bottom line is alive and well in this broken economy. Smart corporations are embracing principles of business sustainability and positioning their business units, products and services for new growth. There are early-adopters, a late-majority and laggards in every distribution of companies that choose to introduce new business strategy and processes to their organizations. In the case of sustainability it is more of a corporate value that needs to be accepted and then injected into the very culture of the corporation for it to become operational and of value. That point is lost on many corporations that simply seek to overlay some sustainability principles onto a few of their facilities or products and wait for positive financial returns. A passive speed-dating approach to corporate sustainability will not work.

To be successful a corporation has to proactively adopt sustainability principles, make them their own, align them across business units, and devise clear goals for operational excellence, corporate responsibility, and product strategy. This can only be accomplished through complete senior level buy-in and support. Additionally the business units have to align themselves with the new corporate value for sustainability, develop their own goals and performance indicators toward the new value, and make it relevant to their employees, customers and stakeholders.

Developing, implementing, monitoring and adjusting corporate sustainability for continuous improvement is not an easy task. Corporate sustainability embodies values, vision, goals, actions and improvements. It is as much a process as it is a tangible product or service. To reap the full benefits of sustainability, companies have to be prepared for a cultural change, a process that takes time, and a new way of doing business that is more complex, but ultimately more profitable.

Survival of the Fittest…Darwin Says Sustainability is Evolution
This all sounds reasonable right. And you are going to tell me that the economy is broken and your company is in survival mode. You don’t have the time, resources or support to think about business sustainability. And this sounds very logical to me; except that you are compromising the future success of your corporation with survival tactics, not with sound business strategy. Darwin’s mantra “survival of the fittest” holds true to business, but it is not just solid financials, or cutting costs, or restructuring in tough markets that lead to survivors. In two decades from now the companies that are still alive and thriving will have evolved. On one hand they have superior products and leaders that know the fundamentals of operating a strong business. On another hand they will have transformed to adopt principles of sustainability that allowed them to evolve their business, products and operations so that they can be fit enough to survive energy price volatility, natural resource and commodity constraints, dynamic and shifting customer preferences for greener products, and new regulatory or market requirements.

What I mean by this is that the financial and business landscape has changed and is transforming. Business as usual may sustain your operations for a few months or years; but ultimately government, business and consumers are asking for more. And the “more” that is being requested is not necessarily more money. It is a smarter, better run, less risky and ultimately more profitable business that views the world through the lens of sustainability. That lens views the world more holistically, with people, planet and profit as a more balanced screen than just profit. Twenty and thirty years ago the screen of sustainability was not only foreign to corporations; it was rejected and defied all principles of capitalism and why businesses existed. Today however, the evolution of business sustainability is brining new life to modern corporations that better understand their relationship with the natural, physical and human world; and knowing that for their survival they need to become more sustainable enterprises. That means reducing waste, reducing water and energy consumption, reducing greenhouse gas emissions, designing better products, minimizing their transportation footprint and doing all this while still making a profit.

This article was written by Mark Coleman, senior associate & world inc. case leader with the AHC Group, Inc., a management consulting firm. It originally appeared on