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Revisiting the Golden Rules for Sustainable Business: 2 years of learnings

20 December 2018

Our Golden Rules series has been a platform for excellent insights from over 20 years of supporting companies to operate sustainably and to realize increased revenue, enhanced brands, reduced costs, and mitigating risks. As we reflect at the end of 2018 on the two years of learnings since introducing this series, we identify the overarching perspectives to drive change and actions to realize positive impacts that remain constant over time.

Review Of the Golden Rules for Sustainable Business

1. Golden Rules for Sustainable Business – An Overview

From over 20 years working in this field, we identified several lessons that surface repeatedly when companies are asking the questions: 

  • What should my company’s strategy be related to sustainability?
  • Why is it important?
  • How do I realize value from it?  

2. Bring your customer in

Time has proven the importance of the customer who we found to play the primary role, even above product compliance, as a driver for defined actions with business operations.  

3. Success requires focus and action

The approach for businesses to know how to effectively identify, assess and address the most significant sustainability impacts, or “hotspots”, of the business in a way that provides reasonably accurate and robust information.

4. The value is in more than just tightening your belt

Traditionally environmental health and safety (EHS) topics have been seen as a combination of legal regulatory requirements and/or a cost to the business. Here we explore the additional business value to increase revenue, enhance brands, or mitigate risks by regarding sustainability topics as opportunities, not risks.   

5. If you don’t know your destination, any tool will get you there

We all love tools — they are core to who we are as humans – and the sustainability world is rife with tools. In this blog we demonstrate that if you do not know where you are going, any tool will get you there.

6. Without a seat, three legs of a stool are useless

Here we illustrate why we refer to governance as the seat of the sustainability stool, functioning to recognize and incentivize the environmental, social, and economic performance of the business.

7. Interview with Al Iannuzzi, former Senior Director of Sustainability at Johnson & Johnson

Jim Fava interviews Dr. Al Iannuzzi, author of the book “Greener Products: The Making and Marketing of Sustainable Brands” (CRC Press 2017) where we learn about his experiences with examining case studies and examples of tools and approaches that companies use to develop and market greener products. 

8. Interview with Ron Voglewede, Global Sustainability Director at Whirlpool

Jim Fava interviews Ron Voglewede, who share insights on Whirlpool’s choice to take a consumer value approach as opposed to a regulatory approach to sustainability to fully understand what their customers value the most, while bringing in their stakeholders in the process.

 

3 follow-on lessons to our Golden Rules for sustainable business

Upon further reflecting on the postings, conversations, and another year of experiences, we observed three overarching messages to serve as a follow-on for our Golden Rules Series.

1. Activities are important but only the first step to create actual positive impacts

Often, we consider providing data and information the result of our efforts.  But it is often just the first step to achieve impact. Consider this framework for driving outcomes: 

  1.  Activity - the indicator of our activity is a produced report – e.g. identification of hot spots for a product being redesigned.
  2.  Outreachwe reach out and train 20 product development professionals on the results and what they mean.
  3.  Immediate impactsthe next generation of the product for which the hot spots analysis was undertaken on has reduced the impacts from each of the hot spots (e.g. use of energy, water and elimination of a material of concern).
  4.  Longer term impacts e.g. the new redesigned product created an increase in 20% revenue over the previous product; and because of selling 500,000 units of this product, 1000 Kwhrs as well as 1,000,000 gallons of water were saved.

It is important to understand what we want to achieve and how. The GEF report on “Impact Evaluation Review of Outcomes to Impacts Rotl" is a solid review and provide excellent insights on the path from activities to impacts.  

2. Taking a positive attitude is a key factor to create positive impacts

This was identified by Ron Voglewede in his interview for the Golden Rules series. Ron observed, “People get more motivated about feeling good and having a positive impact. I think of the quote that ‘Negative people have a problem for every solution.’ You will have a lot of people telling you there is no value in what you are trying to achieve. You must ignore that. You have a chance to make big impacts both in people and for the planet.” Ron Voglewede concluded that taking a positive attitude is not a new golden rule, but it’s an attitude that you should have for all the golden rules.

3. It is all about Change Management 

We hear about change management all the time. But what does it really mean to me, my business and/or my company/organization? For many years we have used this change management visual to explain what we mean by change management.  When presented to senior managers, they all acknowledged that they have seen programs which they had been excited about end in confusion, anxiety, gradual change, frustration or false starts.  We are sure you have observed similar situations within your own company.  To achieve change we must have vision, skills, incentives, resources, and an action plan. 

 

Embedding sustainability to create business value

We understand that embedding sustainability considerations into core business practices to create business value is not a one-and-done event. There are a continuing array of emerging issues, trends, market and society pressures which are evaluated as to what are they, do they apply to me, and most importantly, how do I respond. 

We were excited to learn from the outcomes of Anthesis’ survey on emerging sustainability trends, that one of the critical trends of importance to businesses was the that of embedding sustainability into core business practices. That was the exact message that we had picked up from the learnings from our Golden Rules series. The past two years have reinforced our Golden Rules in our ongoing experience with our clients, but we’re always searching for new insights to keep our finger on the pulse of what’s changing.

Stay tuned for the 2019 survey on emerging sustainability trends. We look forward to another year to observe what aspects of our Golden Rules for Sustainable Business may change and evolve, which pillars remain constant, and what new insights we find in the fast-changing landscape of emerging issues in sustainability.

 

If you would like to speak to us about the “Golden Rules of Sustainability” or how your business can move beyond compliance and truly embed sustainability into your business please contact Jim Fava or John Heckman

 

 

 

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