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When Sustainability Becomes a Challenge, Opportunities for Innovation Abound

In my last article, I discussed the importance of integrating sustainability into your organizational culture. This ensures that companies reap all of the financial and reputational benefits sustainability offers. Yet, so many companies still view sustainability very narrowly and think of it as simply a corporate social responsibility, or CSR, initiative. Some companies even believe that sustainability hurts their business as they associate sustainability solely with cost. In reality, companies that have started on a sustainability journey understand that sustainability is not just a CSR initiative but a business strategy, a driver for innovation and a competitive advantage.

Regulation Spurs Opportunities

Government regulation can often be a driver of sustainability. Certainly, regulation can create challenges for businesses and their customers by mandating certain standards that must be achieved, such as lower emissions, fuel consumption or improved safety. But these challenges can be leveraged as opportunities for companies to rethink their standard operating procedure. For example, a supplier may see that their customers are encountering a tough regulatory challenge and if the supplier can come up with a solution to that challenge both companies can realize revenue growth and other benefits. In this example, regulation can drive sustainable economic growth, which is vital to the long term success of a business. Regulation can also create a more level playing field within a specific industry, empowering businesses to understand how they compare to their peers and enabling consumers to compare apples to apples when making purchasing decisions. This ability to benchmark one company against another can be a powerful motivating factor when developing business strategy and making decisions.

Sustainable Technology

Companies focusing on sustainability are also creating and/or leveraging more advanced technology as a means of driving business results. New technology may allow for greener processes or new processes that require or create opportunities for greener technology. For example, DuPont is currently developing technologies to produce cellulosic ethanol, a product which reduces greenhouse gas emissions more than 60% compared to gasoline. While the product itself is notable in its ability to reduce dependence on fossil fuels, significant efforts were made to integrate sustainability into the production process through water recycling, pollution controls and energy co-product capture. Ultimately, this innovative product and process will significant advance the cellulosic ethanol industry toward commercialization – sustainably – while concurrently generating business value for the company.

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