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The Sustainable MBA

Facilitating Sustainability Strategy

With "An Inconvenient Truth" earning an Academy Award, awareness of climate change is on the rise. Bono's (Product) Red is raising funds to combat AIDS in Africa while maintaining a revenue stream for participating corporations. The 20 percent growth in U.S. purchases of organic food reflects consumers' demand for safe, nutritious food and humane treatment of farmed animals.

Corporations, large and small, are undertaking responsible management activities to reduce environmental impact, improve social responsibility, and raise animal welfare standards to improve corporate citizenship. These responsible actions can improve a company's reputation, increase its brand value, contribute to a better world, and enhance its bottom line. But, how does an organization know where to focus its limited time, energy, and resources?

Traditional strategic planning involves a SWOT analysis, resulting in strategies designed to reach measurable goals that promote an organization's vision. The focus is on using an organization's Strengths to take advantage of Opportunities and minimize its Weaknesses while avoiding Threats, using financial models as input. However, this traditional approach is limiting unless it includes 1) input from a broad range of stakeholders; 2) an organization's own sustainability assessment; and 3) a method of planning for the future, rather than repeating the past.

Stakeholder Engagement

Transparency is a critical underlying value in responsible management. It is important to determine who has a stake in your organization's products or operations and hear what they are saying. Traditionally, only stockholders' and customers' needs have been considered. Innovative strategic planning also seeks input from NGOs, communities, and business partners. An experienced facilitator will create a safe space for effective two-way interaction focused on the mutual learning of each other's missions and concerns. The facilitator will encourage development of methods for continuing communication. By considering this additional input in strategic planning, your organization can develop financially secure sustainability goals that please stakeholders and boost brand value by listening to those affected by your products or operations. Simply inviting stakeholders to be heard can boost an organization's reputation.

Sustainability Assessment

In developing your organization's strategy for sustainability, it is important to understand where you currently stand. How do you know where to go if you don't know where you've been? The Sustainability Helix (developed by Natural Capitalism Solutions) is a framework for assessing your responsible management practices and visually documenting your progress along the spectrum from Exploration, Experimentation, Leadership, to Restoration according to six areas:
  • Governance and Management
  • Operations and Facilities
  • Design and Process Innovation
  • Human Resources and Corporate Culture
  • Marketing and Communications
  • Partnerships and Stakeholder Engagement
An experienced facilitator can lead a broad team of participants through focused discussion resulting in a highly effective visual with supporting documentation illustrating your progress towards sustainability. This eye-opening deliverable may show that your communications are at the leadership level, while your design and process innovation lag behind; or that your corporate culture remains at the exploration level while your operations are solidly in experimentation, moving towards leadership.

As Stakeholder Engagement provides understanding of stakeholders' concerns, the Sustainability Assessment provides a baseline of understanding your sustainability "scorecard" as input for strategic planning.

Scenario Planning

According to Adam Kahane, author of Solving Tough Problems, organizations cannot predict or control the future of their industries so it is impossible to plan the "right" strategy. However, it is important to be alert to what is happening in your industry and in the world to recognize meaningful changes and skillfully adapt to them.

Frequently, management strategies are based on the assumption that the past will repeat itself, or on managers' own forecasts of their industry's future. Scenario planning challenges your organization's assumptions about the present and the future by unearthing a set of carefully created, realistic stories about how the future may unfold -- providing you the opportunity to strategically plan for it. An experienced facilitator creates a safe space to seek different and provocative perspectives from your innovative team, including industry sustainability experts. Scenario development encourages managers to verbalize their assumptions and examine trends and uncertainties, so the group can develop proactive strategies based on the future, rather than repeating the past.

A Sustainability Assessment provides a baseline of understanding your sustainability "scorecard," and Scenario Planning provides the opportunity to develop more innovative strategies based on plausible stories of how the future may unfold, preparing you to seamlessly adapt to change.

Strategic planning is a process, not a destination. An experienced facilitator guides organizations through an innovative strategic planning process by creating a safe space for participants and by using proven methods to drive deliverables. By including information gleaned through stakeholder engagement, sustainability assessment, and scenario planning, your strategic planning process will be more robust and meaningful, producing strategies towards financially sound sustainability goals -- and leading your organization to success.

Janice Neitzel, a principal with Sustainable Solutions Group, facilitates organizations in developing innovative strategies and processes, resulting in solutions that reduce environmental impact, improve social responsibility, and raise animal welfare standards, thereby, improving reputation and increasing brand value. She received her MBA in Sustainable Management from Presidio School of Management in 2006.

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