Practically all companies nowadays recognize the many benefits of sustainability tactics, from making facilities more energy efficient to offering products that save people money. Some companies, though, are taking aggressive steps to make sustainability core to every part of their operations, showing the path businesses that want to be successful need to follow.
From the results of the second annual Sustainable and Innovation survey and research interviews, MIT Sloan Management Review and the Boston Consulting Group (BCG) lump companies in two categories: embracers and cautious adopters.
The embracers are typically larger companies dealing with big workforces and bigger resource use, MIT and BCG say in a report summing up the survey. They're the ones who've realized early on that in many ways, sustainability strategies are just plain efficient, good business strategies.
They more often view sustainability as a way to get a competitive edge on others, attract new customers and boost market share. They're also more willing to take a chance on things that can't be assigned clear monetary values.
"While all companies struggle with quantifying the return on their sustainability investments," the report says, "in the case of the embracers, this does not dampen their enthusiasm. And while embracers are working to develop the quantification practices that will help link their sustainability activities to the bottom line, they also demonstrate a characteristic not seen among cautious adopters -- the readiness to take a leap of faith."
Aside from the obvious savings from using less energy and water, producing less trash or selling waste to recyclers, another prong of business strategies has been to make more sustainable products.
"Embracers are also confidently making the link between sustainability and profitability. Part of this," the report says, "is the ability to increase sales by providing new products valued by consumers who care about issues such as ethical supply chains and energy efficiency."
Procter & Gamble and other companies that sell laundry detergent have released products that work in cold water, and even have run promotional campaigns encouraging people to wash in cold. In addition to saving people money, such efforts can also reduce the carbon footprint caused by the entire life cycles of products.
Closing out with the fact that most businesses see sustainability as a necessary component in the future MIT and BCG offer seven tips for how to operate like embracers:
- Move early — even if information is incomplete.
- Balance broad, long-term vision with projects offering concrete, near-tern "wins."
- Drive sustainability top-down and bottom-up.
- Aggressively de-silo sustainability — integrating it throughout company operations.
- Measure everything (and if ways of measuring something don't exist, start inventing them).
- Value intangible benefits seriously.
- Try to be authentic and transparent — internally and externally.
Image CC-licensed by TheeErin/Flickr