When it comes to understanding and embracing sustainability, organizations know the what and the why, but they're still grappling with the how. That's the focus of a new report by the London-based sustainability consultancy Lavery Pannell.
In "Sustainability: the HOW," Grey Lavery and Nick Pannell lay out three major hurdles with which they've seem numerous companies struggle, as they look for a means of improving their organization's sustainability record while keeping profitability in focus.
After describing each hurdle, which they say can "stall or derail a sustainability program," the authors lay out strategies for circumventing the issue, as well as very brief case study to illustrate their point.
The three hurdles described are:
• Moving beyond compliance with environmental standards, to achieve business value. It sounds counterintuitive, but the key to moving beyond wide-reaching compliance concerns, say Lavery and Pannell, is to use an even narrower focus. Hone in on the areas where your organization would derive greater value than mere compliance. Those are the areas where investments in compliance will be converted into returns.
• Integrating sustainability into the fabric of a company's operation, to avoid ad hoc approaches, which "leaves value on the table and slows down company-wide sustainability efforts." Overcoming this problem requires taking sustainability efforts out of their silos and finding what Lavery and Pannell call "enablers" -- such as communication plans to reporting processes -- that are need to turn sustainability into a strategy.
• Converting a sustainability program into a long-term engine for competitive advantage. This required staff and stakeholder engagement, they explain. But more importantly, it can sometimes mean changing an organization's entire business model. For example, Fuji Xerox started remanufacturing used parts from its installed base of copiers in Fuji, rather than importing new parts from Japan. They lowered its costs and boosted its environmental credibility.
Lavery says that over the years spent consulting large corporations (he and Pannell previously worked for Booz & Company), he's seen patterns emerge in how organizations approach sustainability and in how sustainability efforts mature. For those that are just starting, "a CFO appoints a sustainability manager -- usually someone from a compliance role -- and says 'OK, sustainability is yours. Make it happen.'"
From there, an organization may be able to bring forth a number of initiatives, but they're scattered throughout the company. "A sustainability manager might say, 'there are bits and pieces, but what do I do next? I'm not in control of this,'" says Lavery.
Even for organizations that have integrated sustainability successfully into their corporate fabric can find that creating competitive advantage is still quite difficult. "These companies might put out a sustainability report, and then competitors look at them and do the same thing," says Lavery. "They might only be 12 months ahead of their competition."
No company has achieved everything in terms of sustainability, and there's always room to improve, he says. "Some people say it's a linear journey from compliance to leadership, but it doesn't work that way," he says. By describing common hurdles and strategies for overcoming them, Lavery hopes he can help companies remain one step ahead.
The "Sustainability: the HOW" report is available on the Lavery Pannell website.
Hurdle photo via Shutterstock.