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The seven steps to corporate sustainability transformation

Sustainability Challenges

A few CEOs are constructing rickety and vulnerable pathways to what may prove to be a better future. Photograph: Jon Sparks/Corbis


Powered by article titled “The seven steps to corporate sustainability transformation” was written by Jo Confino, for on Friday 20th September 2013 11.18 UTC

I was taught that true vision is the courage to build a pathway over a seemingly unbridgeable chasm so that others can also find a way across.

The release of the world’s most comprehensive CEO sustainability study shows that the majority of companies, seeing the edge of the abyss draw closer, have turned back and abandoned hope of integrating sustainability into their business anytime soon.

While the same survey three years ago saw corporate leaders expressing a “bullishness that business could lead the way in tackling sustainability challenges”, they appear to have lost faith and from a place of fear, returned to the old and so-called trusted path of short-term profitability above all else.

But thankfully the study by the United Nations Global Compact (UNGC) and Accenture has found evidence that those few CEOs with the courage to hold firm and press on, have constructed a rickety and vulnerable structure to what may prove to be a better future.

The UNGC and Accenture claim to have discovered a deeper understanding of how sustainability can give companies a competitive advantage. “At its heart is a different approach, moving beyond reactive, incremental responses to external pressures and toward a new understanding of sustainability as an opportunity for innovation, competitive advantage, differentiation and growth.”

Accenture and the UNGC say research from the report suggests seven key approaches that businesses must adopt in order to transform their strategies, business models and value chains.

1. Realism and context

Companies taking the most ambitious action on sustainability are also the most realistic about the scale of the risks and are more likely to admit that business is not doing enough. Understanding the challenge allows these companies to appreciate the opportunity for future growth in providing solutions to sustainability issues and to target strategies to achieve it.

2. Growth and differentiation

There is the emergence of a two-speed world in sustainability, between those companies still reacting to external expectations and focusing on incremental mitigation, and those that see sustainability through a more expansive lens of growth. Many CEOs of leading companies say the urgency of global challenges provides an opportunity to differentiate products and services, to access new markets and to expand into new regions, countries and areas where their products can meet a pressing need.

3. Value and performance

For companies seeking to go beyond incremental change and tackle global sustainability issues, the challenge is two-fold: not just to measure and manage metrics of reduction and mitigation, but also to quantify the value of initiatives and more sustainable business models to the company, and to track their impact on the communities in which they operate.

4. Technology and innovation

Leaders in the field are securing business advantage through innovative research and development, as well as the deployment of technologies in order to tackle environmental and social pressures. These range from investment in renewables and intelligent infrastructure enabled by machine-to-machine communications technology, to new closed-loop business models.

5. Partnerships and collaboration

CEOs are more readily acknowledging the role of collaboration and partnerships in meeting their ambitions on sustainability. These partnerships go across all sectors of society and range from governments, policymakers and industry peers to consumers and NGOs.

6. Engagement and dialogue

There is an increasing recognition of the need to establish a constructive, two-way dialogue with all stakeholders; consumers and local communities, regulators, policymakers, investors, shareholders, employees and labour unions. Rather than simply acting and then communicating, CEOs are actively engaging stakeholders to negotiate the role of their business in addressing global challenges.


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