Most (90%) companies around the globe consider a sustainability strategy necessary to remain competitive, according to research published May 2017 by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) Sloan Management Review. Among the leaders in this sustainability movement include well-known firms such as Nike, Adidas, Unilever, Nestle, Walmart, IKEA, BMW, and Toyota as well as retailer H&M.
While many companies and their leaders are putting greater emphasis on sustainability—viewing it as key to their future success—a gap appears between knowing about the importance of sustainability and taking action. The companies that stand out for their sustainability efforts have managed to close this gap. Although living out their sustainability beliefs was not easy, they managed to meet their goals by following a variety of steps. These steps, detailed below, can work for jansan organizations in the process of closing their own knowing/doing gap.
Connect the Sustainability and Strategy Dots
When organizations find their sustainability strategy might increase business costs, their motivation to implement the strategy can weaken. Toyota faced this situation manufacturing hybrid cars. Hybrid cars can be very dependent on rare earth minerals, which are becoming more costly. As these cars already tend to be more expensive than traditional gas-fueled cars, Toyota was afraid that further increasing costs might hamper sales and the company’s profitability. To address this concern, Toyota engineers developed alternative engine technologies that are far less dependent on rare minerals, keeping costs down and sales up, while remaining focused on sustainability.
Never Let a Good Crisis Go to Waste
About 20 years ago, Nike faced boycotts and public anger not only from customers but also from many of its vendors. Since the 1990s, the company had presented itself as sustainability-focused and supportive of human rights. It turned out some of the company’s global suppliers paid very low wages, provided poor working conditions, and put environmental concerns on the backburner, if they even considered them at all.
Since then, Nike has selected new suppliers that share its corporate views. The company publishes reports revealing where its products are manufactured, how workers are paid, what benefits they receive, the working conditions they labor under, and the sustainability programs in place. As a result, Nike has returned to the top of the sustainability-focused mountain.
Another way for companies to practice sustainability is through open communications with their staff, vendors, and customers. Jansan distributors who previously relished their privacy must be open to discussing their sustainability successes, accomplishments, and future plans. The distributors’ transparency will be rewarded when they realize the benefits of respect and honor.
Get the Board on Board
The MIT study found that less than half of the board members in companies taking an active role in sustainability are behind such a program. However, when the C-suite is behind the program, any challenges can be overcome, just like the cost issues Toyota solved. Other companies have created effective methods toget their entire team on board . For example,Salesforce.com gives 1% of its time, 1% of its equity, and 1% of its products and services to the communities it serves through its 1/1/1 program.
We are in a difficult period now when it comes to sustainability in general. Actions taken on the federal level are encouraging organizations to forget the gap entirely. However, I believe this problem will be short-lived. Thirty years ago, we were discussing climate change. Now we are witnessing climate change and realize the importance of sustainability firsthand.