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Executives Link Sustainability with Business Strategy

Large U.S. companies continue to be involved in sustainability, and most companies see an alignment between sustainability and their overall business strategy, according to a new report and related podcast from Deloitte.

The Deloitte report, “Sustainability in Business Today: A Cross-Industry View,” and podcast, “Three Things Your Chief Sustainability Officer Won’t Tell You,” also find that many companies have a gap between their leaders’ sustainability aspirations and the way that sustainability is enabled within their organizations.

The survey indicates the importance of sustainability to the future of the respondents’ businesses and the challenges that sustainability leaders face in trying to align their organizations sustainability practices with their principles.

Among survey respondents, all but three said their sustainability priorities were at least partially aligned with their organizations’ business priorities, says Deloitte. However, a number of respondents noted that alignment was an ongoing process that occurred at different rates in different areas of the business.

BSR’s report, “The New Frontier in Sustainability: The Business Opportunity in Tackling Sustainable Consumption (PDF),” identifies opportunities for companies to deal with sustainable consumption through three key parts of the business value cycle — product design, consumer engagement and use, and end-of-use.

“For years, sustainable consumption has been framed as a limitation on business,” says Aron Cramer, BSR president and CEO, who recently led a workshop on the subject. “But in a world where our consumption patterns outpace the planet’s ability to regenerate resources by 30 percent, businesses that figure out how to deliver enhanced value by radically reducing material inputs and engaging consumers on product use will be well-positioned for success.”

As an example, cited by BSR, design choice for things like material weight and packaging have direct impacts on transportation costs and fuel use, while choices about energy efficiency directly impact energy consumption in a product’s use phase.

In some cases, a focus on sustainable consumption may result in a significant redesign of familiar products, and in other cases, there may be an opportunity to deliver the same value through services (such as car-sharing) rather than products (such as car sales), says BSR.

Findings from these two surveys fall in line with an earlier survey of CEOs released by the United Nations Global Compact and Accenture that found 93 percent of respondents see sustainability as crucial to their future success.

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5 thoughts on “Executives Link Sustainability with Business Strategy

  1. Alignment and vision, top to bottom, is critical to the success of an organization’s actions in supporting sustainability. Making a move to use sustainable forests but then trucking the product across the country is counter productive. Decision makers throughout a company need to see the whole picture, understand how a decision impacts the supply chain AND the environment, and be willing to make the tough call to support sustainability.

  2. My experience is that focusing on profitable sustainability first helps generate momentum in your program. Instead of framing sustainability as “what we have to do” look at it as “what it can do for us”

  3. Love the quote from Aron Cramer. If a CEO hasn’t woken up to that reality yet, they’d better start getting their heads wrapped around that statement. It’s a game changer.

    I’ve heard people from Nike describe it as “hitting a brick wall” if they don’t get ahead of the resource issue.

    That tells me that sustainability IS business strategy these days. If we don’t have the resources (energy, water, land, air, raw materials) to run our business, the other previously critical strategic discussions really all fall to the floor.

    @BrookeBF from @RecycleMatch

  4. Appropriately, the CEOs of companies will have to ask their environmental department heads to include environmental sustainability in their external hazardous waste disposal, i.e. non-internal to their operations, in order to practice complete sustainability. This would require alternative solutions to permanently rid the company of hazardous releases with no future liabilities attached, preferably ones that do not allow the hazards to leave the premises.

    When external hazards are being released from a site, CEOs should require a constant vigilance to seek out and implement technologies that will constructively support their environmental initiatives and that will mitigate future cradle-to-grave liabilities.

  5. Kudos to business leaders getting their feet wet first. Smaller firms developing innovative techniques for sustainability are treading water without the commitment of the few leaders willing to adopt something new.

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