sustainable business

by Renee Charney, President, Charney Coaching and Consulting

On Monday of this week I attended the annual conference sponsored by the New Hampshire Businesses for Social Responsibility (NHBSR) — and img_0070_0_0.jpgwhat a fantastic day it was! The attendees spanned small, medium, and large businesses across northern New England that are focused on, and dedicated to, providing the means for their employees to develop practices in sustainability and social responsibility. Interests ranged from environmental and people engagement, to energy efficiency and volunteerism. Everyone came to hear sessions on a variety of relevant topics (including a keynote by Honest Tea co-founder Seth Goldman).

There was also a series of exhibitions offering services that support sustainability and social responsibility, and an energizing power-panel of leaders who provided their view of the trends we can expect with regard to sustainability and social responsibility in our communities and organizations.

I was fortunate enough to participate as a facilitator for one of the breakout session topics (we called them Huddle Ups). These were seeded by gathering interest from conference registrants during the registration process; the Huddle Ups were truly their sessions, conversations that struck to the heart of their challenges and hopes for their organizations.

The day was fulfilling and rich with learning.

The conference theme was “Just One Thing” – a simple message – conveying the notion that individuals or organizations do not need to implement a large, complex initiative to gain a commitment to sustainability; it takes just one thing (a small step) to begin the journey.

The most important aspect of the conference was this message – Just One Thing – that everyone understood to mean this: that the efforts of each ccc-staircase-first-step-225x300.jpgand every one of us can help to sustain our environment, employees, and communities, and that these efforts can be simple and inexpensive, yet still impactful. One brilliant and simple suggestion that I heard from a participant in my session was about reducing the size of the trash cans in each office, a simple way to develop an overall awareness (and habit) of generating less waste. Another idea was to offer volunteer days with pay so that employees could offer their services to a needs-based organization of their choice, a way known to deepen the meaning that workplaces have for employees. Another was to have the employees create a “12 Steps to Sustainability” campaign and to dedicate a step (or initiative) for each month of the year. By year’s end, they could then celebrate seeing the fruits of their efforts.

The NHBSR message of Just One Thing is both powerful and simple; it doesn’t take much to make an impact. In fact, the smallest steps can sometimes be the most impactful overall; those small steps can make a difference to a few or to many—it matters overall. What matters is that we have a chance to connect our whole lives through our work, family, and community. When we have the opportunity to do that, our lives make so much more sense overall. What is just one thing that you can do?

By Jay Friedlander, College of the Atlantic and 2013 NHBSR Conference Keynote Speaker

A perspective that matches your potential

We are surrounded by the constant churning of enterprises rising and being destroyed. In the midst of such competitive turmoil, a fresh perspective is critical to thriving and identifying new avenues of growth.  Unfortunately, many of the strategic models used by businesses today fail to connectspiderweb.jpg
sustainability and strategy, putting blinders on management. This prevents enterprises from reaching their potential and opens them up to being eclipsed by their competitors.  The context of business is ever changing and it is time for the models to catch up.  In over a decade of working in and with sustainable companies and teaching sustainable enterprise, I have found the need for a model that reveals a new perspective, one that makes sustainability strategic. Using such a model and gaining fresh insights uncovers opportunities and unlocks innovation. The model, called a Value Web, is a framework that examines business holistically. Applying it surrounds an enterprise with an interlocking and self-reinforcing web of value, generating wins for stakeholders across all of the activities of a business. In doing so, the Value Web™ offers companies a route to a continuously improving sustainable competitive advantage.

Creative destruction is changing the competitive context
The economy marches on evolving through the agricultural, industrial, as well as the information and service ages assigning the former titans of
industry to the dustbin of history. Either change or fall prey to this cycle of creative destruction. This failure to adapt has meant that only one
company listed in 1896, when the Dow Jones Industrial Average was conceived and when commodities and agriculture reigned supreme, has
been forward-looking enough to survive – General Electric. This constant turnover has been ongoing and is only speeding up. For example, in the
last five years nearly a third of the components, nine of 30 companies, have been replaced. While the Dow tracks what is happening amongst the
largest companies in the United States, the pace of change is similar for businesses large and small.

We are entering an age where sustainable companies will reign supreme. Reams of evidence from books like Conscious Capitalism to Harvard Business Review articles and academic studies tracking stock market performance exist to say that we are in an age where sustainably focused companies are outperforming their peers. They are finding new opportunities and unlocking innovation by asking new questions and approaching business from a different perspective.

Is your company operating with blinders on?
So, how do these phenomenally successful companies come undone? In a word: perspective. A slew of companies listed on the Dow followed the path of former Dow component Eastman Kodak and that of technology companies like Blackberry. They become entrenched in what made them
successful without keeping an eye on the change coming down the road. By using the models and frameworks of the past, these companies were
operating with a limited field of vision and as a result were blindsided by more forward-thinking competitors. This begs a personal question: is your
company going to be passed by? How do you find new opportunities for the next economic age and avoid becoming irrelevant?

Making people, profits and planet strategic
Considering people, profits and planet (3P) and making prosperity for all stakeholders a priority is often quoted and used with varying degrees of
success. Some efforts are intentional, others lip service and some happy accidents. Ideally, considering 3P drives managers and executives to
create a virtuous cycle whereby each action reinforces the other. Some of the results sought by pursuing this goal are highlighted below in figure 1.

Figure 1: Benefits from pursuing 3P practices. 
triangle_0.pngHowever, as much as 3P is touted, its impact could be strengthened by applying it to all of the activities of a company, from materials acquisition
and production to marketing and sales. This is key to making sustainability strategic. To maximize the impact for all stakeholders, each of these
activities must be passed through the 3P screen. Explicitly making waste or, more accurately, unsold production part of analysis also assists
companies in identifying new sources of value. Finally, companies should also reimagine their business by closing the loop and making unsold
production an input. (Figure 2)

Figure 2: People, Profits and Planet at Every Activity

web_and_3p_combined_2_0.png

The Value Web offers a sustainable competitive advantage
This new model helps companies look at each aspect of their operation, uncovering latent value and spurring creativity. Furthermore, because the
interwoven parts are more difficult to copy, the Value Web (Figure 3) creates competitive barriers. Since the expectations of each stakeholder
group are constantly evolving, the Value Web is regenerative. It highlights potential opportunities to refresh and revive as the company seeks to
satisfy new stakeholder desires. As a result, this creates an atmosphere of continuous improvement, which is key to avoiding obsolescence.

 

Figure 3: The Value Web
value_web_0.pngLook no further than Triple Pundit to see copious examples of companies spinning their new web of value. As you read the stories and think about
your own company, ask yourself which activities are changing and if this is a piecemeal or systemic approach. It’s a question that competition will
answer soon enough.

To learn more about how to apply the Value Web to your business, register for the Corporate Sustainability Leadership Program at UNH on April 2nd - 4th.  Jay will be teaching a session on methodology.

(This blog was originally published in Triple Pundit.)

 

 

Professor Jay Friedlander is the Sharpe-McNally Chair of Green and Socially Responsible Business at College of the Atlantic (COA) in Bar
Harbor, Maine. COA has been repeatedly cited as a leader in sustainability and Jay’s work has been covered in Fast Company, Princeton Review, CNN, Chronicle of Higher Education, Christian Science Monitor and Money amongst other media. Jay has been a frequent presenter at conferences in the United States, as well as New Zealand, Australia, and the European Union on sustainability, enterprise and innovation. Jay can be reached
at jfriedlander@coa.edu.