Over the past 10 years, I have seen companies become increasingly focused on strategic sustainable issues in their business practices. How they do it, however, continues to be a challenge.
I believe a business cannot go wrong if it pursues a common mission and focuses on material issues with a strategy that is closely aligned to its business imperatives. It must innovate and persist, even in tough economic circumstances, and collaborate beyond the company while applying each team's expertise to achieve common goals.
In honor of GreenBiz.com's 10th anniversary online, here are 10 lessons I've learned about green business, with links to the full discussions, appropriately online.
1. Sustainability Requires Everyone to Work Together: Businesses, Government and NGOs
To transform society, it's larger than business -- it is about governments, businesses and citizens working collaboratively to become more efficient, to develop new "greener" technologies that are economically viable, and to use these new innovations across our society. We must all work together.
2. Sustainability is a Team Sport in Business
Within businesses themselves, sustainability as a practice can be challenging. For this reason, it requires the expertise and hard work of many people in multiple departments in a company. It is the concerted efforts following an agreed-upon mission that allows a company to progress and succeed in sustainability. This involves many different departments bringing different knowledge and values to the table. Each needs to be working in concert with others. This, then, is individually powerful, but also collectively effective.
3. Sustainability has to Be Green to Stay Green
Some judge businesses' environmental initiatives only through the lens of environment. But should we exclude economic decisions in the name of environmental sustainability? Before answering, let me ask it another way -- should we ignore environmental considerations simply because the economic situation remains weak? Frankly, I think the answer to both questions is no since environmental initiatives need to be economically viable if they are going to be sustainable into the future. Otherwise, a business can't be sustainable over the long-term. Translation: The business or the environmental initiatives won't be around.
4. Apply Environmentalism in the Organization in a Way that Adds Value
There is a concept called "Practical Environmentalism" that I define as strategic and transformational environmental stewardship that adds tangible value in the effort to be more responsible.
Think of it symbolically as a house. Environmental performance can be viewed as the house's foundation. Anything you wish to build must have that solid foundation to last. Then, focusing upon leadership and transparency actually helps frame out the real, three-dimensional walls, including the windows. Simply undertaking environmental initiatives that are excessively expensive and sound good in a press release, but are not strategically relevant and do not add value is simply like a two-dimensional façade rather than a real structure. There is nothing behind it, and it's likely to fall in high, turbulent winds.
What about Innovation? It's like the roof. It allows the house to weather the changing climate over the years, and keeps the residents dry during inclement weather.
5. Lead on the Material Issues for the Organization
Leading an effective environmental sustainability program should be like leading other strategic initiatives. You have to rally the team to clear and stated objectives. You have to use judgment in what is attainable, to know what's necessary, and sustain your team's focus, or you will not be successful. You also have to rely upon others to help you carry out the objectives.