Sustainability fatigue, disruptive innovation and the flourishing enterprise

When a major company launches a sustainability journey, it normally starts with high expectations, says author Chris Laszlo, After these efforts yield early positive results, however, "sustainability fatigue" sets in. How can an organization find that original energy and push its goals forward?

Laszlo, a corporate sustainability expert, offers ideas about the next steps. He wrote “Embedded Sustainability: the Next Big Competitive Advantage” and “Sustainable Value: How the World’s Leading Companies Are Doing Well by Doing Good.” He’s an associate professor of organizational behavior at Case Western Reserve University’s Weatherhead School of Management and visiting associate professor at the Drucker School of Management at Claremont Graduate University.

I first met Laszlo at a Sustainability Circle event, where Chris facilitated a session on how to embed sustainability into an organization. Chris and I talked about his latest work on the “flourishing enterprise.” Rocky Mountain Institute (RMI) editorial director Peter Bronski recently joined us to continue the conversation.

Michael Bendewald: You teach executive MBA and Ph.D courses, where you include RMI’s “Reinventing Fire” alongside your own “Embedded Sustainability” as texts for the courses. We’d be remiss if we didn’t ask how “Reinventing Fire” complements your work and teaching.

Chris Laszlo: Sustainability is increasingly a business strategy and driver of profit, but the mindset of many companies is still that it’s a cost. When line managers hear about the triple bottom line, including social and environmental objectives, there’s a sense that you have to compromise on the economic side. But you don’t and you shouldn’t.

For students and executives, it helps to have them see how market forces are leading companies to embed sustainability along their life cycle value chains, making it a smarter way to do business rather than only a moral or regulatory obligation.

In my work in management schools, I bring in strategy and organizational behavioral frameworks. Students benefit from having a way to think about how sustainability contributes to competitive advantage and organizational effectiveness. I also provide tools such as life cycle cost analysis and my own work, such as the sustainable value matrix and the 6 + 1 levels of value creation. What we need, what any good course needs, is to populate those frameworks and tools with credible examples. That’s where “Reinventing Fire” fits in.

Image credit: CC license by U.S. Army/Flickr

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