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Sustainability Is about Long-Term Thinking, Planning & Profitability, Part II

pax, sara, bluehorse associatesA giant challenge facing us all is how to convince the C-Suite that sustainability is about profitability and not just about PR. The problem is long standing and not easy to overcome. Like a long dysfunctional relationship, this problem faces deep-rooted baggage that seems impossible to leave behind, and, in this case, therapy may not be very helpful.

In the spirit of the summer holidays coming to a close – when you have a lot of other reading to catch up on – here are some quick-and-easy tips to give you a practical and tactical boost as you get back into the regular routine of work and face all the same obstacles that were there before everyone went on their vacation.

Top 5 Tips for Sustainability Champions To Convince the C-Suite

1.    Put sustainability into a context that’s relevant to your business and brand.

Case studies are usually the best way to find a relevant example to present to the C-Suite, but you might not find a case study that is representative enough of your business model or market. Look for case studies that emphasize action plans and routes to profitability over one-off success stories. Define what sustainability means for you and your team. Tell the story from your company’s perspective highlighting how Brand X can reap the same benefits. In other words, make sure that you use your company’s internal language to make your case, not just cut-and-paste language from an anecdote or case study.

2.    Clarify that true sustainability means cost savings, waste reduction, and increased profitability over the long term.

Sustainability means a lot of different things to a lot of different people. Make sure you focus on the business case and always discuss business-relevant facts. Sustainability in a business context should always emphasize things like cost-savings and waste reduction. It should be discussed in the language of the top priorities of your business today. The relevancy of sustainability can be linked to individual KPIs, departmental goals, revenue targets, and a lot more. Discussing sustainability in these contexts, and in the language that the C-Suite can relate to, serves to make it strategically relevant to the business as a whole.

3.    De-emphasize CSR, i.e. photos of smiling children, charitable contributions, and community-based programs.

CSR and sustainability are often confused in the C-Suite. CSR is more often than not based on charitable or community-based programs that are an outgoing cost to the company, where the ROI is measured in  goodwill, good PR and corporate or brand image, and hopefully customer and employee loyalty.. Sustainability, in the food sector, is about the long term health of the business in terms of the reliability and affordability of commodity materials (such as corn or oil), the efficiency of operational practices to minimize material waste throughout the manufacturing process and supply chain, and the knowledge to understand the best ways to implement these cost-saving programs. Emphasizing CSR reporting will serve only to marginalize the discussion around sustainability and keep it on the edges of the business, rather than integrated within day-to-day operations.

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2 thoughts on “Sustainability Is about Long-Term Thinking, Planning & Profitability, Part II

  1. Thank you Sara… spot on, so well articulated. Our challenge is indeed reaching the C suite with compelling business rationale for integrating Sustainability (not just corporate/social responsibility thru charity, community outreach, PR, etc.) into the strategic and operating fabric of the company. We simply have to start talking this language more comprehensively and persuasively to effect meaningful change in business. Thanks for your contribution to that effort.

  2. Short term planning is often portrayed as being more flexible, able to change according to circumstances and therefore profitable. This is the reason many people cling to it. Further, there is uncertainty with long range planning because people have yet to be able to accurately predict the future. Indeed, most predictions of the future are as often wrong as they are right. Sadly, as an evolving organism we can only understand where we are at the moment, the future is still beyond our purvey. Further, the most absurd things can become profitable.

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