As I sit here thinking about what I want to write, I reflect back on my journey in business and finance that has brought me to where I am today. How, in conducting business, it is results, outcomes and accountability that have always carried weight. Serving customers well and adding value – making them more efficient, more effective, helping them grow. And, with sustainability, what began as a niche approach is today flourishing into a strategic imperative, and must have a result-focused orientation.
Yet, within the mainstream of the sustainability movement it is common for organizations and many of their advisers to focus on how to execute process rather than how to deliver results. In part, I believe this is because companies are not focused on the outcomes and sustainability’s relevance to the overall goals of the firm – let alone on giving tangible, financial expression. Indeed, it is not uncommon to find organizations with as many as ten different sustainability focus topics; some have more than 30 (two-thirds of S&P 500 survey) as reported by CFO. And, if the senior executives or business owners do not understand, and prioritize, but merely see sustainability as a box-ticking exercise, then the result is disconnection from the firm’s purpose. This seriously hinders the ability for the firm to reduce conspiring environmental and social cost and risk, and further shackles the firm’s ability to meet its primary objective of increasingly being able to capture, create and deliver more economic value.
And, while sustainability is rising in the corporate lexicon, and words are powerful tools in shaping perceptions, the hallmark of an authentic sustainability policy remains with a firm’s ability to communicate in a material and contextual manner from understanding how sustainability connects across the entire organization, its value and investment chain. The business demonstrates how systems thinking for “Sustainable Viability” allows them to create fresh opportunities by uncovering the largely hidden risk and cost. They understand how to analyze and synthesize effectively with tangible, material metrics to achieve more with less – to make efficiency effective – to be more innovative and know how to leverage their new-found information and report in a manner that is integrated, material, and in context to engage individual stakeholder groups who have a material interest in the success of the business – to demonstrate their provenance. This allows them to break free of me-too competitors with a value-advantaged position – to serve their customers better by capturing, creating and delivering more value.