For the past few years, SustainAbility and GlobeScan have conducted surveys of sustainability experts and practitioners. Each year we run a survey on leadership; a story on the 2012 survey appeared in GreenBiz.com in March. One of the questions we ask is what company is a leader in corporate sustainability. And we ask why.
Sifting through the responses, several attributes appear. Leadership companies:
• have a strong vision
• address critical challenges
• propose big ideas
• think long term
• commit significant resources
• show evidence of integration
• have a prominent CEO
• communicate effectively
Or to put it more simply, leadership companies are strong in all three corners of the leadership triangle (see graphic, below).
Many companies are strong in one or two areas of the triangle -- think BP during its Beyond Petroleum days (strong vision and communication, but poor integration/performance) or ExxonMobil (strong operational performance but poor engagement/communication and a business-as-usual vision and strategy).
But those that land at the top of leadership surveys and stay there are strong in all three areas. The 2012 Sustainability Leaders Survey places Unilever, Interface, GE, Patagonia and Walmart at the top of the rankings. Each of those companies has a strategy that addresses the full triangle.
What does your triangle look like? And what would be required to break out of the sustainability peloton and ride with the leaders?
In sustainability, as in cycling, it takes a vision of what can be, commitment, engagement with others and a lot of hard work.
The difference, of course, is that when we are talking about creating a more sustainable world, there is no finish line.