What sets Nike, Nestle apart in their sustainability strategies?

What sets Nike, Nestle apart in their sustainability strategies?

Unilever, Nike and Ricoh are among just 10 percent of companies that have taken steps to genuinely overhaul their business plans to favor sustainable growth, according to new research by consultant firm Deloitte.

The company recently partnered with Volans, a green consulting firm, to assess how many companies have sustainability strategies that present a credible response to climate change and environmental threats.

Volans founder John Elkington has coined the term "zeronaut" to describe organizations that have taken the decision to try and grow the bottom line with zero environmental impact.

Drawing on Elkington's definition, Deloitte developed a Zero Impact Growth Monitor that was used to assess and rank 65 different companies' attempts to become more sustainable.

The resulting report produced in the wake of the Rio+20 summit, found 20 percent of companies have taken an "experimentation" approach towards becoming "zero impact," meaning they are starting to tackle most issues around sustainability.

Meanwhile, just six businesses -- Puma, Nike, Nestle, Natura, Unilever and Ricoh -- have taken an "ecosystem" approach to delivering a zero impact company, with the report claiming they have embedded policies into a long-term strategic vision designed to make the organization genuinely sustainable. They are also in the process of establishing "sustainable business ecosystems" involving all of their suppliers and stakeholders, Deloitte said.

However, none of the businesses assessed had reached Deloitte's top level of maturity, dubbed "economy" and characterised by the adoption of a workable strategy for delivering zero impact growth, including measurable short and long-term targets with clearly defined benchmarks.

Moreover, 70 percent of those firms assessed were said to have only adopted an "enterprise" approach to zero impact, meaning they have a clear vision of their sustainability goals, but lack a holistic and long-term approach.

Deloitte said the survey also found that most companies have strategies which aim to make them "less bad," rather than positively good for the environment. In addition, it warned there was a lack of consistent definitions and descriptions that companies could use to adequately explain their sustainability efforts.

"Although the research focused only on the so-called 'leading companies,' there are still considerable differences in scores -- even within the same industry," said Deloitte. "We have seen the biggest gaps in some of those industries that will see the highest EBITDA loss in case of the internalization of additional external costs."

"During our research we have also observed considerable differences in the scores of various industries, which in our view hinders potential innovation and collaboration in and between the industries," Deloitte said.

Illustration of runners breaking away from pack provided by Nicholas Piccillo  via Shutterstock.

This article is reprinted with permission from Business Green.