Sustainability as a platform for growth

Ten years ago,

  • virtually no companies were making public commitments regarding sustainability.
  • most companies treated sustainability issues as operational issues – strictly limited to their factory walls.
  • sustainability was seen as cost, not profit.

But quietly, many of the world’s most successful companies were looking at radically different approaches to creating sustainable businesses. Businesses designed to be environmentally sustainable, socially sustainable and economically sustainable. How they assessed sustainability and the approaches they took are changing the expectations of all businesses today.

Switch #1: Asking the right question
Most managers ask for proof that sustainability can be profitable. The result? Few dare risk their careers on a guess about whether unsupported change will be successful. Switch the question to “How can we make sustainability profitable?” and you get scores of ideas from within and outside the company. General Electric has used this technique in its Ecomagination Challenge to find new ideas, new businesses and new fans. It is doubling the rate of growth of its sustainability products vs conventional products with a view to providing only sustainable products to the market.

Switch #2: Committing to an end game
Toyota’s “Our aim: zero emissions” has guided the development of their processes as well as their products: they aim to ensure there is a hybrid and then a fully electric vehicle for each of their models. The result has been that they created and now dominate the market for low-emissions hybrid vehicles and have driven the industry commitment to electric cars.

Switch #3: Taking responsibility end-to-end
Similarly P&G’s commitment to zero waste from it’s products and packaging, or Coca-Cola’s to ensure that they generate as much water locally as they use, send a clear signal to communities, employees and NGOs that they are moving beyond doing ‘less bad’ and towards operating in a way that is consistent with nature.

But the most game-changing move of all?
Reconsidering true costs by integrating the cost to the environment into P&L. Puma has put a monetary value on environmental impacts. The result – they are taking decisions that systematically decrease their use of materials, processes and logistics that are costly to the environment, in favour of those that have little or not cost.

Where to start?
Naturally, to get these benefits, employees and supply chains need to have an understanding of what sustainability means, and how value can be captured. And then – they need to be set free to innovate. As we have worked with our clients, we have done the research on how and what companies are doing to capture value. As we work with teams to help them engage and manage the change internally, we also have our eye on the external tools and drivers that can help make the switch. Let us know if you’d like to reconsider with us what switch could make the difference for you?

Caroline has had 20 years experience developing and running environmental/sustainability functions across the public, private and not-for-profit sectors. Connect with her here to discover more.

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