Skip to main content

A Sustainability Checklist to Finish the Year and Plan the Next

How much will your business need to change in the coming years?

Will you be one of the many caught in a reactive, last-minute scramble to adapt? Or will you chart a strategic course that enables you to survive as an organization, profit your shareholders and employees, lead your industry and contribute to a better world?

The fourth quarter presents important challenges and opportunities for business sustainability leaders, as it does for all executives and managers. It's often the time for planning (and sometimes reflection -- though often at high speed!), for budgeting for the coming year, and sometimes for spending remaining budget for this year.

Here are some specific questions for you to consider as you engage in that Q4 process -- and that we can help you address.

1. Where are you going?

What are your sustainability goals?

I'm sure they're SMART -- Specific, Measureable, Attainable, Relevant, and Time-Bound -- but are they integrally connected to your business goals? Even more importantly, are they sufficient to the challenges we all face -- as companies, communities and citizens?

Yes, building brand, share and profit, of course. Yes, flattening your footprint -- to build brand, share and profit, to engage the hearts of your employees and stakeholders, and to prevent climate change from being even worse than it will be.

But let's not pull punches. What we're really up to -- all of us dealing with sustainability -- is to transform the economy of a planet in one generation. It's to build, in Bucky Fuller's words, "a world that works for 100 percent of humanity, in the shortest possible time, through spontaneous cooperation, without ecological offense, or the disadvantage of anyone."

And that, by the way, is the biggest business opportunity of the century.

It's also what Natural Logic is up to. We do that by helping our clients  succeed by designing, implementing and measuring profitable sustainable strategies that connect your deepest commitments -- what you're really here to do -- to your business goals to build brand, share and profit.

Your starting point can be a strategic briefing for your executives, goals workshop for your sustainability team, an Innovation Charrette with both those groups and stakeholders.

2. Where are you now?

What's the unvarnished, look-yourself-in-the-mirror truth about your company's sustainability profile -- from carbon and energy, to water and waste, to capacity and engagement -- and its impact on your business, its risks and opportunities?

Are you prepared to deal with both the "inevitable surprises" and the unpredictable changes your business will face in the coming years?

3. What resources can you muster to bridge the gap between where you are now and where you want -- need -- to be?

"Resources" means "budget," of course, and part of your job is to get the budget you need for 2011. But resources is not only budget. It is also the organizational, culture and creative capacity that you can bring to bear.

How well are you formulating the requests, the offers and the promises that will mobilize the resources -- financial and otherwise -- to engage your organization to bridge that gap? Do your sustainability programs have visibility with your C-suite as mission critical business initiatives, not just a nice thing to do.

4. What will you do?

It's not just a matter of business plans, strategic plans, marcom plans, branding plans, CSR reports and the like. It's also a matter of the fundamental commitments that you, your colleagues and your company are prepared to make. And that's a matter of some fundamental questions:

  • What are you really here to do?
  • What business are you really in?
  • What promises will you make to your shareholders, boss, family, and to yourself?
  • Who will do what? By when?

That's a lot to think about in three months at the end of the year. It's late. You can't do it all at once. But you can make major leaps -- that can transform your company -- if you are willing to.

Gil Friend is president and CEO of Natural Logic Inc., faculty at the Presidio Graduate School and author of "The Truth About Green Business." The original version of this post appears in the author's blog at

Image by user

More on this topic