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Downtime Means Time for Sustainability

This year I couldn’t help but notice a trend. It’s been happening the past few years and I believe its meaning is significant. Our busiest time – the period when we get the most inquiries, the most demo requests, and even close the most sales – is when everyone else is on vacation. So, when other businesses are slowing down for summer-time, winter holidays or even at Easter spring break – sustainability managers finally have the time, and freedom, to make some headway in finding better ways to reach their goals.

A Hiatus from the Inbox

The most plausible theory is that the everyday pressures and time and budget restraints prevent sustainability managers from exploring and implementing new activities. And while this is not all that surprising, the reality that sustainability is still low on the agendas of so many companies can be frustrating for those of us that have witnessed the business-changing impacts and cost-savings that can be obtained through these initiatives.

From Anecdotes to Empirical ROI

The anecdotal evidence that sustainability, in all its many forms, directly and positively impacts the bottom line is increasing every day; however, there is still not enough (much-desired) data to statistically model the resulting dollar-for-dollar return that sustainability brings. The evidence is there – in individual stories – but the work is still so young that the longer term profitability as a result of these activities is still only proven in anecdotes.

Our modelling work shows that almost every time carbon is reduced in a product’s lifecycle, cost is also reduced. We consider the term “lifecycle analysis” or even “carbon footprinting” to be almost synonymous with “supply chain efficiency” and “cost reduction”. It’s clear, however, that this is not everyone’s thinking…yet!

The Lone Sustainability Champ

It’s been our experience that even huge multi-national companies are only dedicating one person, or even just a part-time person, to their sustainability work. That’s not to say that their marketing and PR departments aren’t busy with this topic, but their actual operational investment is limited. Is it because they’re not convinced of the profitability of the work? Do they still relate “sustainability” to “tree-hugging”? Or are companies waiting for a mandate – either from government or a client? Whatever the reason, there are millions, if not billions, of dollars being wasted in supply chains everywhere, resulting in loss of profit and unnecessary high environmental impacts.

Lower environmental impacts means less raw materials needed, more efficient transportation supply lines and stronger relationships with suppliers resulting in less volatility in supply, quality, and costs. It also means stronger relationships with clients resulting in more favorable customer status, and stronger relationships with communities and other stakeholders resulting in higher customer loyalty, higher employee productivity, and more collaborative relationships with even competitors. Who wouldn’t want all those things? And yet, interest in our product sustainability work bumps up when there’s downtime for everyone else.

Invest in Your Sustainability Chief

So we hugely applaud the sustainability managers of every stripe who get more and more “company goals” dumped in their laps and who, as one told us recently, can “only deal with the real sustainability issues when he’s in his hotel room at the end of a long day of meetings about everything else.”

I therefore challenge CEOs and business leaders to invest in your sustainability chiefs. There’s money to be made – potentially a lot of money. Don’t just put your money into market research about consumers’ interests in sustainability. Give your sustainability champions the time, resources, and budgets to implement cost-saving programs that will directly benefit your bottom line over the long term.

Sara Pax is the president of Bluehorse Associates, a developer of environmental sustainability metrics solutions specialized in the food and beverages industry that includes the web-based, lifecycle assessment and product carbon footprinting tool Carbonostics. www.carbonostics.com


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