Dow’s 6 Secrets to Corporate Sustainability Leadership
Corporations, like leaders, display habits that can identify their commitment to sustainability, says Dow Chemical’s vice president of sustainability and environment, Neil Hawkins. He singles out six habits that he says leading green businesses must embody in a column for Ensia magazine.
Hawkins categorizes the habits under three core ideas: demonstrate leadership, collaborate with others instead of trying to be an island and win by netting profits that funnel these efforts.
- Take the road less traveled — Hawkins says businesses should not be afraid to try new ways to be sustainable. Take failure in stride and persist in sustainability efforts. He cites the Virgin Group’s founder Richard Branson and his unusual path: Branson committed all profits from his transportation group to developing clean fuel. And earlier this year, along with Puma CEO JoCHen Zeitz, he launched a nonprofit called the Plan B to help companies develop new sustainable ways of doing business.
- Chart the course and get there first — Hawkins suggests setting an end-goal and working backward, figuring out how to reach the goal. He recommends setting aggressive goals for employee alignment, combined with public tracking, which can help companies achieve their mission.
- Be an open book — Share lessons learned while also learning from others, he advices.
- Be the missing link in the chain — By recognizing their strengths and weaknesses, companies can partner with others that complement their strengths, which will lead to quicker progress. Hawkins cites Coca-Cola’s ongoing partnership with the Worldwide Wildlife Fund to protect freshwater resources, which originated in 2007. As another example, Hawkins cites The Sustainability Consortium, which boasts more than 90 members including BASF, Best Buy, Coca-Cola, Kimberly-Clark, L’Oreal, Mars, Monsanto, SAP, Unilever and Walmart, and just last year expanded into China.
- Pick the right people — Companies will not have all the answers, which is why they need to recruit the right people and train them to think like sustainability thought leaders, Hawkins says. He gives the example of consulting firm Accenture focusing on sustainability leadership when training future leaders.
- Make the value obvious — Be very clear in communicating the triple bottom line of people, planet and profits and work on finding the ideal sweet spot that can create the maximum impact, he suggests.
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