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Target, Staples Use WRI Tool to Profit from Sustainability

Target and Staples are among the companies using a new World Resources Institute tool to evaluate their sustainability efforts.

The Sustainability SWOT, or sSWOT, adds sustainability to the traditional strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats (SWOT) analysis to help businesses translate environmental risks, like climate change and water scarcity, into opportunities for profit.

WRI cites a study by the MIT Sloan Management Review and Boston Consulting Group, which found that companies deriving profits from their sustainability efforts are more likely to work with others (see chart) in addressing environmental, social, and economic challenges.

According to a WRI blog post, companies can use the sSWOT to motivate others to invest and collaborate on sustainability issues in ways that increase business value. It can also help convince top-level executives and boards of directors that environmental challenges are closely tied to companies’ core interests.

WRI has been testing the sSWOT with a dozen companies over the past few months, and heard from the companies that the tool creates a “common language” for taking about sustainability issues with colleagues, and a “bridge” for discussing the company’s current operations and plans to be competitive in future markets.

According to the sSWOT User Guide, Target executives used the tool to work with the food business director and her team to assess sustainable food initiatives.

Other examples from companies testing the sSWOT include:

  • Staples used the sSWOT to frame meetings with large commercial customers and start discussions about collaboration on sustainable products, purchasing and energy.
  • Auto parts supplier Delphi used the sSWOT to assess zero-waste strategies and found that cost savings could be a compelling pitch to senior management.
  • Food giant Danone Brasil used the sSWOT to answer the question: is our five-year sustainability strategy ambitious enough?

In September, Ceres launched an online tool to help companies assess supply chain sustainability, and earlier in the year UL Environment, the environmental services unit of Underwriters Laboratories, launched a free web-based tool to help manufacturers assess their corporate sustainability efforts.

UL’s 2012 annual global study found that more than 80 percent of manufacturers say sustainability is essential to the success of their business.

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