On February 10, the MIT Sloan Management Review, in collaboration with the Boston Consulting Group, published their Winter 2011 Research Report on findings from the 2010 sustainability and innovation global executive study and research project. The report, Sustainability: The ‘Embracers Seize Advantage,’ explores the following questions: How has the economic downturn affected sustainability investments within for-profit companies? Are there patterns that appear across organizations making sustainability investments? And, if so, what can we learn from them?
The results were clear: those who have adopted sustainability into the core of their business, embedding it into all levels of the organization—both operational and strategic—are drawing the greatest returns. In short, taking a leadership position on sustainability pays. The question then is: If sustainability leaders are capturing value and seizing advantage, what does it take to be a sustainability leader?
The businesses winning the game of sustainability are those that move early. They invest in learning before scaling up, engage all employees in the journey, integrate the sustainability approach across all departments and functional units, value intangible benefits seriously, and endeavour to be trustworthy and transparent. So says the MIT Sloan report. Our experience at The Natural Step bears this out. Companies like Nike, Interface, Max Hamburger and others are proving the case.
The linkages between social, ecological, and economic issues are changing the business environment forever; sustainability is the strategic business issue of our time. The Harvard Business Review compares sustainability to the Total Quality Movement–and concludes that it is the next major driver of innovation. The 2011 State of Green Business Report affirms that today’s sustainability stories aren’t the ones we heard even two or three years ago. Major corporations are putting a stake in the ground when it comes to sustainability commitments.
Sustainability cannot be managed at the periphery of a business and won. True value will only be created for a business when sustainability is understood as fundamental to the future of the business and approached as a strategic imperative. It must be integrated into the very way a business does business–in fact, affecting what business a business does.
Business has traditionally asked itself, “In light of our business plan, what should our CSR policy be?” The ‘embracers’ are instead asking, “In light of sustainability, what should our business strategy be?”