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Shift Happens

Sustainability strategy begins with 20/20 Vision

<p>Business strategy that has sustainability at its core can capture hearts and minds while also increasing responsible growth. Here&#39;s how to get started.</p>

This is the first in a monthly column highlighting critical organizational design and development elements that support a sustainability strategy.

Why is it important to have a business strategy that has sustainability at its core? Because it can invoke passion and inspiration while benefiting the company financially. A shared vision, where sustainability is not a “project” but rather a philosophy that runs through every aspect of company culture, can capture hearts and minds while also increasing responsible growth of the triple bottom line.

When everyone is moving in the direction of a sustainable future, it’s easier to identify and capitalize on global trends. When companies view their overall business strategy through the lens of sustainability, near- and long-term issues like rapid urbanization, water shortages, constrained natural resources, changes in climate, modernization, mass connectivity and social unrest become challenges a company can help address, and opportunities for growth.

As Yogi Berra once said, “If you don’t know where you’re going, you’ll probably end up somewhere else.” This is true for sustainability planning, too — but with a sustainability vision infused throughout a company, there’s a clear focus, a roadmap, and a context for making operating decisions.

Not only that, but sustainability simply makes sense from a strategic business perspective. Some food for thought:

  • A 2011 study by MIT noted that sustainability is now a permanent part of 70 percent of corporate agendas.
  • According to a report by D S Simon Productions, "media initiatives with a corporate social responsibility focus generate 35-50 percent more positive media coverage on television, radio, web and social media than comparable programs without CSR.”
  • Social and environmental responsibility is also appreciated by investors: In the stock market, responsible assets rose more than 324 percent from 1995 to 2007, confirming growing interest in sustainability among investors.

So how does this type of ingrained, internalized, embraced sustainability start? It all starts with a vision. Some excellent examples of how a meaningful vision and mission creates powerful strategies are PepsiCo (NYSE: PEP), Layne Christensen (Nasdaq: LAYN), DuPont (NYSE: DD) and L'Oreal.

Photo of businessman and colleagues at presentation by Dmitriy Shironosov via Shutterstock.

PepsiCo articulates it this way: "PepsiCo's responsibility is to continually improve all aspects of the world in which we operate - environment, social, economic - creating a better tomorrow than today." It put its vision into action through programs and a focus on environmental stewardship, activities to benefit society, and a commitment to build shareholder value by making PepsiCo a truly sustainable company.

An example of putting this into practice is its wildly successful Pepsi Refresh campaign. By garnering votes online, organizations can win grants. Since it started in 2009, more than $19 million in grants have been given to more than 1,000 local community projects, nonprofits and other groups, impacting more than 1.4 million people. And as often happens, a great additional benefit to Pepsi has been the massive wave of PR that has come with doing good. As of mid-2011, Pepsi had more than 76 million votes on their site, and had chalked up over 3 billion online mentions.

Another example of putting this concept into action is at Layne, where its vision includes sustainability at its core: “To be the leading sustainable solutions provider to the world of essential natural resources -- water, minerals and energy. (Full disclosure: Layne is a BrownFlynn client.) As part of its overall business plan, Layne has a specific sustainability business plan that focuses sustainable efforts in detailed ways that support the business goals while also supporting environmental, social, and economic goals. Additionally, it highlights the importance of both tracking and continually improving. By establishing an organization structure, building measurement tools, engaging its workforce, and developing overarching strategies to help them measure progress, Layne’s employees are inspired to make progress towards their vision.

DuPont also focused squarely on sustainability as critical to all aspects of their business. Its vision statement is, “Our vision is to be the world’s most dynamic science company, creating sustainable solutions essential to a better, safer, healthier life for people everywhere.” How does it put that vision into action? DuPont lists safety, concern and care for people, protection of the environment and personal and corporate integrity as the company’s highest core values. Having this in place as a guide for making decisions has allowed DuPont to be named a Fortune Top 50 Most Admired Company, and number 19 on the Top 100 Best Corporate Citizens by Corporate Responsibility magazine.

At L’Oreal, sustainability is a source of inspiration: L’Oreal provides “access to products that enhance well-being, mobilising innovative strength to preserve the beauty of the planet and supporting local communities. These are exacting challenges, which are a source of inspiration and creativity for L’Oreal.” With this philosophy guiding them, they have designed some impressive programs like their Digital for All and Green Academies. Additionally, the company appreciates the value diversity brings to innovation, and has developed creative hiring programs to find the best talent available in multiple new markets where growth is accelerating.

An inspiring vision is a critical step in moving an organization to positive change and achieving long-term, responsible and sustainable growth. What’s your company’s vision? Does it lead the organization to an inspired sustainable future? If it does, we believe “shift happens!” Let us know in the comment below.

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