The Power of AND
What makes a sustainability program successful? As we look at back at our experiences and those of our colleagues, there are many answers to this question such as obtaining executive leadership or delivering positive payback.
But the most important and underlying theme of all successful sustainability programs is embracing the concept of AND - making sustainability about addition instead of subtraction. We see this time and again as we promote programs that measurably deliver:
More profit AND lower carbon emissions
Higher productivity AND more flexible work practices
Increased output AND less energy consumption
If we ask our stakeholders to accept less, then we cannot expect them to support the program and do their part to maximize the outcome, particularly in the long term. Regardless of where or how high up the champions of the program sit in the organization, they must be able to demonstrate the benefits to the board room, the finance team, and the employees who ultimately control the realization of the results.
Finding your AND
Corporate sustainability is mainstream and no longer just philanthropy, and most companies understand that incorporating and embracing sustainability practices has value. However, when sustainability programs are developed and proposed, the business rigor that we would apply to any other investment decision is often not done. Instead programs are presented as 'the right thing to do' or discussed in terms of only the marketing advantage; Or they are presented as purely a financial proposition (and often with much less attractive rates of return).
So we need to change our mindset to think broadly and holistically about how we capture and measure value of becoming more sustainable. This includes:
Evaluating the impact of reducing operating cost uncertainty and risk
Aligning the analysis period to duration of the benefits
Considering not only reputational risk, but also reputational advantage
Ensuring that individuals, not just management, see a benefit in their day-to-day work
One example of this change in thinking is how we look at energy efficiency investments in facilities. Companies are looking for quick payback periods of a few years, which makes sense for a new product investment in a fast moving market where that product will likely be quickly replaced with the next new thing. But applying that evaluation time scale to an improvement to the factory building, that will be part of the company for decades, doesn't make sense since the reduction to the monthly utility bill will last for many more years.
This change is not simple. It takes effort and time to first understand the stakeholders' value equations, and then to align a sustainability program, both it's functional elements and it's presentation, to that value.
But that investment to find the AND will create lasting and meaningful impact.