Corporate Sustainability Trends That Transform Business

By: Evolution Communications Group
ST. LOUIS - May 30, 2015 - PRLog -- Sustainability has come a long way in the last 30 years. Fewer and fewer business leaders are asking, “Why should my company take action?” and more and more are asking “How?” How do they create impactful programs that will take root, deliver ROI, and drive innovation across the business?

To answer that question, I spent some time researching a few major companies on the topic of corporate responsibility and sustainability. I explored the intricacies of their sustainability programs, including the ones that worked and ones that didn’t, and which ideas remained ideas and which became reality.

In doing research on building a culture for sustainability.  I have identified three powerful trend. These emerging trends can re-shape a corporation from standard to best business practices, and therefore shape a future in which sustainability considerations are no more unusual than budget considerations. These transformative impact practices in sustainability form a powerful core for changing business culture and mindsets in ways that make sustainability and corporate responsibility indelible.

The first one would be “Co-Creation.” Sustainability and corporate responsibility are not just top-down mandates, worked out by executives closed off in a conference room. In fact, sustainability also works with the opposite approach. Executives working with customers and other external stakeholders to determine what to do and how to do it. It’s what the business world calls co-creation, and it’s one of the most powerful trends emerging in the sustainability space.

A few examples of the kind of co-creation that, if adopted more broadly, will help take private sector sustainability to the tipping point are the “Co-Designing Products.” Rather than engineers designing sustainability-enhancing products that nobody may purchase, companies are increasingly bringing customers into the product development process.

Ingersoll Rand, which manufactures heating and cooling systems used by businesses and consumers, has launched a system for determining its customers’ sustainability objectives and how much they’re willing to pay for products that support those objectives. This enables the company to upgrade products in ways that embed a new generation of sustainability features that people will actually buy and use.

The second emerging trend in referred to as “Co-Creative Planning.” Co-creation should start in the planning stages, and incorporate customer, employee, community leader, and other stakeholder voices from the outset. Co-creating corporate responsibility and sustainability strategies is the best way for major corporations to ensure that their work will take root and have impact.

Several companies are already doing this. Alcoa, for example, uses co-creation to set up its community initiatives. Instead of dreaming up nice things to do for the community, it created a deliberate process and trains people on the front lines to use the process to engage stakeholders, analyze and evaluate needs, and determine priorities. In addition, companies are increasingly adopting bottom-up approaches to sustainability that make employees a vital part of the innovation process.

Deep change in business, change that’s truly about social good and sustainability is as much about what happens at the highest levels of a company, as it is at the mid- and front-line levels. The latter are the ones who make business decisions and take actions daily that make or break whether sustainability happens. In addition, once a movement is bottom-up, it’s hard to stop. That’s exactly what corporation need today! It also has the added benefit of being visible to others, giving it a public relations multiplier effect.

At Alcatel-Lucent, a telecommunications company, a few women in France got together and created a program to help women unleash their potential. They created a group called “Strong-Her. The group collaborates on an internal social media network and organizes local events. Senior management took notice, and now regularly consults the organization’s leaders and sees it as a model for their industry.

At chemical company BASF, everyone in the company, including scientists, sales people, and those on the factory floor have individual sustainability objectives and have articulated sustainability in their own words and for their own jobs. It’s a top-down requirement aimed at unleashing bottom-up thinking and action that senior executives couldn’t dream of.

The third trend is called “Long View.” While companies are often accused of having a quarterly-earnings mentality, more and more corporate leaders are including longer-term growth concerns into their strategies. Sustainability requires a long view, and companies are starting to incorporate sustainability programs into a longer-term vision for their companies, which are not in conflict with shareholders, but as a way to satisfy them. Corporate responsibility and sustainability are both critical to “future-proofing” any major corporation.

BASF, and corporations like it, have created an environment for strategic planning and operations that may sound at odds with the near-sighted corporate stereotype. It’s focus is not only on today, but on 2050, and has found ways to make future sustainability orientation part of the corporate strategy, product development, and partnership creation. In particular, it’s looking at the role it will need to play as the global population reaches a projected 9 billion, which is something that will happen in our children’s lifetime.

An exploding population coupled with the rapid growth of the middle class in developing countries means more people using the smart devices supported by IP, ultra-broadband, and cloud networks. That’s why many corporations have created a global research consortium called “GreenTouch.” The purpose of GreenTouch is to achieve the goal of making telecommunication networks up to 1,000 times more energy efficient than they are now.

What major corporations must realize is that they really only have two choices. The choices are deep change or slow death, because the products needed in the world and the talented companies needed to produce those products are going to be very different in a world that grows flatter, hotter, and more crowded every day we continue to exist.

John Parker is a Senior Public Relations, Corporate Responsibility, Sustainability and Crisis Communications Professional. He is currently the Owner / Principal of Evolution Communications Group in St. Louis, MO.

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