When students of business want to know what makes a business tick, they typically turn to its strategy. When aligned, these three components produce the coveted sustainable competitive advantage, which is defined as a firm’s ability to persistently create more economic value than the marginal (breakeven) competitor in its product market, Let's examine each in turn. A firm’s strategy can be determined using three factors: 1) its positioning in the marketplace relative to competitors, 2) its core competencies that differentiate it from those competitors, and 3) its underlying culture that clarifies to employees the underlying purpose and identity of the organization, supported by structures, processes and policies. ACCTivate! The value these businesses create for consumers above and beyond the alternative include health and safety, poverty reduction, the responsibility that comes with environmental conservation and, perhaps less intuitively, a desire to be associated with a company or brand that aligns with their values. The Guardian reported that The European Commission’s outlawing of subsidies for clean energy were largely requested by BP, Shell, Statoil and Total, and by trade associations representing oil and gas companies[vii]. Here the purpose is to build social goodwill to oftentimes combat any negative publicity that might be associated with their core operations. That’s right — 1.8 billion more customers — extremely exciting for your future ROIs. This helps them defend their operations because they can lay claim to the fact that they are at least redistributing some of the profit associated with these operations to various causes that work to stem their effects. Why is Sustainability Important in Business? future success of their business and 80 percent saying that in 15 years a majority of companies globally will have incorporated sustainability [iii]. In the end, corporate sustainability needs to adapt to the maturity of the business and the company’s willingness to treat sustainability as a strategic opportunity. In summary, research has shown that companies respond to pressures for sustainable business practices in very different ways (see summary table in Exhibit 2), ranging from ignoring and defending against those pressures to aligning the broader objectives of the company and even the supply chain. Although growing more rare, companies may actually promote this positioning as did low end burger chains like Harvey’s or A&W that went with a positioning that countered any need for healthy food by allowing consumers to indulge to avoid any compromise on taste. In this example, the product category is not associated with Clorox in the minds of the consumer but nevertheless represents an important strategic endeavor by the firm because it responds to a growing demand for green cleaning products. Second, strategy is very much about what the company does really well that is valuable and unique (its core competencies) that competitors find very difficult to imitate or find substitutes for. Another very common response in the defensive strategy is for companies to aim for the low hanging fruit; a common expression that refers to those initiatives that represent relatively easy changes that demonstrate a business case. Today, more than 90 percent of CEOs state that sustainability is important to their company’s success, and companies develop sustainability strategies, market sustainable products and services, create positions such as chief sustainability officer, and publish sustainability reports for consumers, investors, activists, and the public at large. In response, CEOs regularly tout their efforts to “embed” or “weave” sustainability into their operations and culture as the ultimate commitment[v] while scholars and practitioners have offered a number of prescriptions to achieve this objective[vi]. Another reason why rivalry must be lower is that companies need to collaborate to avoid the tragedy of the commons. As a result, companies adopting this strategy will not necessarily lay claim that their positioning embodies sustainability but they will tout their efforts to make this a core part of their strategy by reflecting on the resources allocated to efforts to challenge certain sections of their products/services and operations. Several investors … (2010) p. 10. Imagine that, organic farming in the middle of the desert. Best practices in managing and measuring corporate social, environmental, and economic impacts (San Francisco, CA: Greenleaf Pub, 2008); Ethical Corporation, “How to embed corporate responsibility across different parts of your company”, 2009; S. Bartels, L. Papania and D. Papania, Network for Business Sustainability (NBS), “Embedding sustainability in organizational culture”, B. Willard, The sustainability champion’s guidebook (Vancouver: New Society Publishers, 2009), [vii] http://www.theguardian.com/environment/2015/apr/16/bp-dropped-green-energy-projects-worth-billions-to-focus-on-fossil-fuels, © 2018 Mike Valente, Ph.D. More common though would be a particular positioning that very much relied on the erosion of social or ecological systems where denial of responsibility is oftentimes the only option. About Tima Bansal. In fact, their source of distinction represents a key erosion of social, ecological, and economic systems. But over the last few decades amidst the rise in devastating natural disasters, labor scandals, massive oil spills, and trash-islands floating across the ocean, consumers AND businesses started paying attention. Before continuing, let’s define some terms. Get to know and engage with your stakeholders The first step is to get to know every person, group and company that your business impacts (both positively and negatively). The growing demand for "green" and "sustainable" products has created major new markets in which sharp-eyed entrepreneurs are reaping rewards. [i] P. Lacy, T. Cooper, R. Haywood, and L. Neuberger. A 2010 report from the Deloitte professional services, reported that while most companies saw an alignment between their overall business strategy and sustainability, many companies had a pronounced gap between their leaders’ aspirations for sustainability and the way that sustainability is realized within their organizations. The process behind the development of this technology was highly valuable for the firm. But a key difference from the fourth strategy is that their focus wasn’t just on embedding sustainability, it was about rewriting the regulations associated with the carpet industry by demonstrating that more sustainable modes of manufacturing carpet were possible. Any involvement in social or ecological issues is relegated to philanthropic contributions that have very little to do with the firm’s core operations. Sustainability needs to be incorporated into corporate strategies and reflected in organizational business goals. First, positioning goes beyond marketing and represents a unique value proposition to consumers that distinguishes the firm from its competition. McDonald’s children’s charity has attracted substantial criticism due to the claims it makes for improving the lives of children yet ignores the health impacts of their products and the marketing tactics that have historically targeted children. Ally holds a bachelor’s degree in English from the University of Texas at Arlington. Sustainability is defined here as the long-term maintenance of systems according to environmental, economic, and social considerations. They also constructed new norms in the industry that forced a number of competitors that had no interest in sustainability to jump on board. In fact, the existence of a sustainability department has been found to give employees a license to continue on with business as usual or, in some cases, to operate even more egregiously in their degradation of social, ecological, and economic systems. Sustainability might be isolated in an organization in a variety of ways. Conserving resources and reducing pollution are key to operating more sustainably and minimizing your environmental impact as a business. For instance, the evolution of credit unions has isolated the original purpose of addressing gaps in finance in local communities yet represents only a small percentage of their core business operations that resemble the typical financial institution. The transformative strategy then can only be transformative if networks of actors are created. Any public criticism of the firm is deflected as managers vehemently deny any wrongdoing or responsibility. In the first strategy, sustainability and CSR are highly irrelevant to the firm’s strategy. [iv] Bonini, S. “The business of sustainability”, McKinsey and Company (2011), [v] For example, Coca-Cola states, “Our next step is to embed sustainability into our strategic planning process”, Nestle explains, “All business units are now encouraged to embed Creating Shared Value and sustainability into their business strategy and consumer communication”; Wal-Mart held a conference on “How to embed sustainability into your organization”; Royal Dutch Shell chairman said, “Under the recognition of Shell that began when I became CEO in July 2009, we embedded sustainable development firmly into our business”; British American Tobacco stated that they are “Working to embed sustainability in the business” while Philips Corporate Communications says “You have to embed sustainability in your organization”, [vi] Examples include I. Andersson, S. Shivarajan and G. Blau, “Enacting ecological sustainability, in the MNC: A test of an adapted value-belief-norm framework,” Journal of Business Ethics, 59/3 (2005): 295-305; W. Blackburn, The sustainability handbook: The complete management guide to achieving social, economic and environmental responsibility (Washington, DC: Environmental Law Institute, 2007); K. Buysse and A. Verbeke, “Proactive environmental strategies: A stakeholder management perspective”, Strategic Management Journal, 24/5 (2003), 453-470; B. Doppelt, Leading change toward sustainability. It’s not easy saving the world by yourself, but helping your community can be environmentally, economically, and socially beneficial. Marketing is important in conveying this image to outside actors but positioning is supported by strong evidence that supports these claims (e.g. The companies in this category are therefore dependent on unrelated philanthropic initiatives that aim to distract stakeholders from the impact of their core operations. The tobacco industry for years denied any responsibility for the link between their products and various forms of cancer in the same way that the food industry today denies responsibility for obesity and other related health issues associated with food. This is an important paradigm shift from strategies 1, 2, and 3 because employees of the company struggle to understand how the business could exist without sustainability filtered through their daily activities just like employees of strategies 1, 2, and 3 struggle to understand how sustainability could at all be relevant to their daily operations. The most common initiatives are related to reductions in energy and fuel use in manufacturing processes or a reduction in waste through an increase in resource efficiency coupled with an increase in recycling efforts. Nike in the 1990s denied responsibility for the growing instances of labour issues in developing countries because the suppliers making their products were distinct entities and therefore not under the responsibility of Nike. Complexity is important when considering internal competencies because the higher the complexity of a given competence, the more difficult it is for a competitor to copy or substitute it. [ii] KPMG found that 95% of the top 250 companies report on sustainability. Wal-Mart’s positioning is the low cost leader while Apple’s positioning is innovativeness and high quality. From the perspective of employees, strategy 3 creates a very bizarre identity as they might find it difficult to pinpoint just who they are and who they are not. Many academic scholars and practitioners alike have come to the realization that no organization can single-handedly make substantive strides to sustainable practices. In their attempt to distinguish a firm between strategy 2 and 3, students of business need to examine to what extent these initiatives represent a substantial part of their strategy or, as the second strategy described, do they instead represent a means to mask the system degradation of their traditional operations. sustainability planning, and sustainability factors use. Facebook has denied responsibility for the proliferation of fake news although they’ve more recently shifted to acknowledging their role and thus have moved up this strategy continuum. The results in Table 7 indicate that all business sustainability strategies have a significant positive effect on competitive advantage. It’s the job of the analyst to put these initiatives together to pull out a overarching strategy that defines their positioning, core competencies, and internal culture and identity. But the fundamental business practices have not changed. One response is to engage in philanthropic activities that are more associated with the impacts of their operations. As with any other business initiative, you need to make a plan of action and assign accountability. They may have a particular product that is so revolutionary in its benefit for the environment or consumer health that, despite their other operations, represents a highly innovative capability that could be replicated internally in the firm but is hard to replicate by competitors. Another interesting dynamic associated with competitive positioning for this strategy is that the rivalry among competitors that typically exists in strategies 1-4 is much lower. 5 Business Strategies for Sustainability The term sustainability or corporate social responsibility has grown increasingly prevalent in corporate boardrooms and on executive agendas. cit. How do we make products so we can make money today without jeopardizing our future growth tomorrow? From a competitive positioning standpoint, sustainability represents THE key differentiating factor among competitors. Similarly, leading CEOs, such as Tesla CEO Elon Musk have been quoted as saying that trying to establish a monopoly in their industry is counter to the goals of sustainability because it delays the establishment of a much needed industry standard all competitors can adopt to move forward and leave less sustainable practices behind. Why Is Sustainability Important? That is, the mainstream market, which consisted of large industry government facilities purchasing industrial carpet, now expected that Interface competitors offer a similar portfolio of sustainable products. One has to have a sense of humour to not balk at the company’s initiative to raise money for child food education by selling sugar-laden cookies through their Smile Cookie Program. Steve Jobs), specific decision-making processes, unique products, a strong brand, innovation practices, intellectual property, highly valuable machinery or low cost operations. Business sustainability or corporate social responsibility can then be defined as the achievement of economic viability (i.e. It is important to note that companies will exhibit behaviour that spans some of these strategies. On the surface, companies adopting this strategy possess similar capabilities as those companies adopting the third strategy. Associations representing restaurant or food production companies are often heard arguing that the unprecedented growth of food-related health problems is hardly a problem of the food itself but much more a problem of personal responsibility and a deficit in exercise. We have helped companies that are beginning sustainability programs to understand the value proposition, design internal structures, select key performance indicators, and navigate tracking and reporting options. What sort of sustainability strategies for business can we put in place while maintaining the integrity of our bottom line? That is, 20-30% of an employee’s daily routine might be associated with activities related to sustainability. The following business sustainability strategies take organization, data, communication, resources, and technology to put into place — and a little compassion for the planet never hurts. They command a premium price for their products but the philosophical value alignment they facilitate for their consumers justifies the price increase. The external environment can be defined here as an industry, consumer market, supply chain, local community, or even broader society in which the company operates. The earth, on the other hand, is not expected to gain any more acreage at a whopping 197 million square miles — 71% of covered by water, and the remaining 29% by land. The Equator Principles is a similar platform through which major global banks, including CIBC and Royal Bank of Canada, agreed to prohibit any loaning of capital to projects in developing countries of the world that carry substantial social or environmental risks to its citizens. That is, in the context of sustainability, managers that think of the company as a distinct organization is unhelpful. QuickBooks Inventory Management Software | Acctivate. The results of this study may contribute to positive social change by providing information to entrepreneurs about successful strategies for small business sustainability, which can lead to business owners, employees, and communities living and working in a human-oriented, prosperous, and Dr. Tima Bansal is a Professor of Strategy at the Ivey Business School. But at least two leading CEOs have instructed governments in the jurisdiction that they were considering entering that any charging infrastructure must be universal and therefore usable by competing electric car companies. Start a conversation with a specialist today to learn more. For instance a company might engage in philanthropic activities that are both related (defensive) and unrelated (denial) to their operations or they may both defend against the impact of their operations while still having a department that contradicts the seemingly careless operations of other departments (isolated). While there might be other factors that differentiate the firm in the marketplace (e.g. Complexity is high when there are a large number of interdependent parts or actors that collectively create an unpredictable pattern of behaviour as they respond dynamically to their respective local environments. A more accurate term to define what is needed for strategy 5 is a meta-organization. Clorox, the consumer packaged goods company, launched a highly popular Greenworks line that represents an isolated brand in the minds of consumers. The important difference from the second strategy is that the company has begun to innovate in ways that have revolutionized a particular product or process resulting in a substantial reduction in social, ecological, or economic system degradation that goes well beyond incremental improvements. Chapter 4:Ways to Conserve Resources & Reduce Pollution. They have merely become more efficient or incrementally less impactful. A critical source of competitive advantage for companies adopting strategy 5 is their ability to foster relationships with key actors in its external environment. A firm’s positioning in the marketplace then represents somewhat of a contradiction because, on the one hand, a part of their operations or a small section of their product line exemplifies sustainability principles but, on the other hand, the remainder of their operations is non-sustainable or continues to be criticized as such. Internally then, firms adopting strategy 3 demonstrate isolated yet highly lucrative competencies that are more typically found in pockets of the firm. Interface Carpets is a US-based carpet company that has pioneered a number of technologies that have revolutionized the once very toxic carpet industry. Ironically, the influx of specializations in sustainability in business schools inadvertently pushed mainstream professors to avoid thinking more critically about how their course might be partly responsible for some of the system level issues we’ve been seeing. The third strategy is one where sustainability begins to make substantial inroads into the firm’s strategy and operations. That said, some companies might develop competencies in their brand as stakeholders perceive a certain company as a leader in making incremental improvements to their impact. 2. This typically involves an entire department or product line being positioned according to sustainability usually because it makes business sense to do so. Unlike strategies 1and 2 then, the identity of employees and image to outside actors are aligned. Yet despite the prevalence of sustainability and corporate social responsibility, there is tremendous variation in how companies have responded. Once you apply sustainability issues to the supply chain, you’ll see how complicated improvements can be considering how many components to a single supply chain can exist — just think about coffee production or material sourcing from a far off country, not only do thousands of miles stand between you, but those miles are chalk full of individuals working the chain. Absent government regulation, natural resources such as a fish species, water or clean air would be depleted if companies behaved independently. Culturally then employees view the organization as one piece of a larger puzzle of organizations who collectively work to achieve sustainability goals. Oftentimes, companies that embed sustainability have a very strong culture where employees, feeling that they are part of something that aligns closely with their values, are more productive and committed to their work. But evidence in the last decade suggests otherwise. In the absence of any governing body with the power to develop and enforce such a policy, these banks, through peer pressure, have pushed the industry in a direction that fosters more sustainable lending practices. Meta-organizations are unique networks of organizations in that they organize actions around a system-level goal but are not bound by formal authority relations. Transforming an entire industry away from unsustainable practices, such as fishing in a remote coastal region, requires collaboration among large groups of fishing companies. A change-management guide for business, government and civil society (Sheffield, UK: Greenleaf Publishing Limited, 2003); D. Dunphy, A. Griffiths and S. Benn, Organizational change for corporate sustainability (London, UK: Routledge, 2003); M. J. Epstein, Making sustainability work. For example, companies that take business sustainability or CSR seriously would be figuring out how to be profitable while preserving biodiversity or, more impressively, contributing to the integrity of existing ecosystems. While many “green” consultants focus primarily on helping clients “do good,” we are laser-focused on helping our clients “do well” through value-added sustainability strategies, best-in-class public policy insights, clean energy transaction development, stakeholder relationship management, and detailed market and issue analyses. That is, their unique products and services might be difficult for competitors to replicate or the processes behind the creation and delivery of these products and services might be inimitable. If your business sustainability strategies are successful, you can actively have a positive impact on your environment, while doing your part to reduce issues like global warming, inequality, and social injustice. In other words, do these initiatives represent a substantial business endeavor that generates a substantial portion of revenue that positions them relative to competitors (beyond marketing)? Think about the old BETA/VHS war (for those who are old enough) or the more recent HD-DVD/blu-ray war where the supply chain had to wait to figure out which standard would become dominant. Gain the confidence and skills to: 1. The Denial Strategy omits any use of sustainability or CSR in its competitive positioning and at most would rely on its disconnected philanthropic contributions as part of their marketing strategy to suggest that the company is a good corporate citizen. Be Intentional About Sustainability. Business Sustainability Strategies: Delivering Value through the Business Model. Internally, core competencies remain associated with practices that are associated with system degradation. 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