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Sustainability Starts at the Top

May 12, 2017


The road to becoming a sustainable organization starts with a sincere commitment from upper management. While the initial idea may originate from anywhere in an organization, real traction will never occur until leadership buys in. Supervisors bridging the gap between employees and top management are less likely to support sustainable initiatives until after their bosses have encouraged doing so. The perceived costs associated with shifting business practices is the primary obstacle in adopting sustainable practices. Since profitability is the central measure of success and management performance, significant changes in operations must undergo strict  scrutiny before proceeding.

Brand, Trust and Reputation

Nearly every major company mentions sustainability somewhere in their mission statement. Frequently, however, this is little more than lip service. In a survey conducted by Accenture for the United Nations Global Compact, 93 percent of CEOs questioned felt that sustainability is critical to their company’s success. And a hefty 81 percent of them felt that green strategies were very much a part of their operations.

These same leaders listed three key elements that drive their decisions to invest in sustainable practices: brand, trust and reputation. Each of these elements focuses on marketing perception and sales-driven strategies. Upon examining the growing consumer preference for green products and companies, tactful leaders realize the economic potential for sustainable practices as a way to boost sales and appeal to a growing market segment.

Sustainability Can Reduce Operating Expenses Too

Along with utilizing sustainability’s positive public perception to improve sales, corporate leaders are employing these solutions to reduce operating expenses. Some sustainable strategies that aid in minimizing operating expenses include: reducing water consumption, eliminating harmful emissions, implementing recycling programs, instituting packaging changes and converting to alternative energy sources. Private industry and universities have initiated some of the most creative sustainable practices. Universities are often thought of as laboratories for piloting some of the most innovative and transformative  initiatives.

Grading Sustainable Success

Every initiative management supports should be evaluated with the long-term success and profitability of the company in mind. Sustainability initiatives are no different. Even the United Nation’s Three Pillars of Sustainability—economic development, social development and environmental protection—recognize that commercial enterprises must maintain economic viability to improve social and ecological conditions. Adding sustainable practices to a company’s objectives requires management to develop clear metrics to gauge success. Clearly, some accomplishments may not be as tangible as traditional metrics such as profit, sales, and ROI. Companies adopting sustainable practices should also consider tracking: average monthly energy usage, water consumption, amount of materials going to the landfill, amount of materials recycled, amount of packaging materials used and amount of recycled materials used.

Sustainability Drives Profits

Management that does not fully embrace the sales and profitability potential of sustainable practices is missing a giant opportunity. Nearly every major company is recognizing that ongoing sustainability efforts are essential to continued success. In fact, global giant Wal-Mart recently announced its most recent environmental plan, which includes aggressive goals for emissions reduction, zero-waste to landfill, and using 50 percent renewable energy while also upping its offering of green and sustainable products.

What Does Your Organization Do to Show Commitment to a Sustainable Future?

If you work or volunteer at a green-focused organization, or at a company that’s looking to take their sustainability initiatives to the next level in 2017, we want your input. Take this one-minute survey. We promise your personal information will be kept confidential, and the data generated will be used in our Guide to Sustainability Trends for 2017.


How does your organization show commitment to a sustainable future? Share your ideas with us in the comments.

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