Design Sustainability into:
- Products or Services
- Business Model
- Company Focus
- Brand Identity of Company
- Supplier Web & Value Chain
- Industry Leadership & Advocacy Role
Products and Services—The first area an enterprise should focus on is its products and services. Are they sustainable? Are products made from nontoxic, renewable materials, manufactured under socially responsible conditions?
Processes—How sustainable are a company’s processes? Do the design and production processes promote the re-use of materials and minimal use of energy, water, and materials? “You want to make sure the process, as well as the product, is green,” says Friedman. Companies might also review their overall design processes, targeting “cradle-to-cradle” (as opposed to “cradle-to-grave”) product lifecycles (as written about by Bill McDonough and Michael Braungart).
Business Model—Companies can align their financial incentives with their sustainability goals. For example, leasing as opposed to selling is a new concept that some businesses are now exploring. This shift could help balance profitability with waste reduction. (E.g., as long as Interface Carpet made more profit the more carpet it sold, there was little financial incentive to use less material by selling less carpet. However, once Interface changed to a business model of leasing carpet, of collecting an annual fee for “carpet services,” then the company would make more profit the longer the carpet lasted and the more fibers they could reuse).
Company Focus—“When you move your efforts to a company focus,” says Friedman, “you get everyone on board at all levels. By doing this, you let loose innovation throughout the company.” Given the early stages of the sustainability movement, Friedman notes that contributions are needed almost everywhere. Everyone has something to add to make sustainability a reality.
Brand Identity—Making sustainability a part of an enterprise’s public identity turns out to be a great branding and marketing tool, as shown by companies such as The Body Shop and Ben and Jerry’s—or, locally, Shaklee Corp. The latter became the country’s first climate-neutral company in 2000. By actively seeking out such companies, conscientious consumers, investors, and job candidates promote TBL success and profitability.
Supply Chain and Value Network—As part of the “big picture,” a company’s commitment to TBL goals can move beyond the boundaries of its own organization to include to its entire value chain or network, including suppliers, partners, and even customers. All materials, resources, and processes that contribute to the making or use of a company’s product or service be viewed as part of the enterprise’s impact in the world. Aligning the whole “extended enterprise” around TBL goals can in fact make these easier and less expensive for each separate company in the system, and can lead to breakthroughs that can only be achieved at this larger system’s level.
Industry Leadership and Advocacy Role—Once a company has made its way up the first six rungs of the ladder, advocacy becomes its next opportunity. Today, many CEOs and company founders are taking leadership roles in demonstrating sustainability and TBL principles for other businesses and for their industry as a whole. Some examples include Patagonia founder Yvon Chouinard, Body Shop founder Anita Roddick, and Ben & Jerry’s cofounder Ben Cohen.
Moving Players into Position
Like almost any corporate initiative, TBL goals call for the creation of teams of people whose jobs are to bring these goals to fruition. “When a company has committed to TBL goals,” says Friedman, “three groups of people make the difference between plan and reality: the leaders, the stakeholders, and the change support group.”
Leaders—Typically, a company needs at least one executive-level sponsor on board to see a TBL strategy through. That executive’s role is to clear the way and give or get authorization, support, and resources for necessary activities.
Stakeholders—This group takes responsibility for implementing a TBL plan. “With this group,” Friedman explains, “it’s about how to get people motivated and inspired. Basic training and education are critical to ensure buy-in and build capability among stakeholders.
Change Support—“The changes are often large and complex enough that the company needs a support team to enable a broad-scale migration,” says Friedman. The change support team acts as facilitators, gathering resources, linking people to expert resources, coordinating meetings, and spotting and solving problems.
The Next Industrial Revolution
Incorporating sustainability into business is part of a larger transformation that sustainability leaders such as McDonough and Braungart and Amory Lovins call “the next industrial revolution.” As with the first industrial revolution, the challenges are clear and present. While the goal of the first industrial revolution was to create financial value, the challenge in this next era is to simultaneously create financial, social, and ecological value. Friedman’s point of view is that there is a significant advantage for those working to enhance sustainability in this new era: It is still open territory — there is much to be accomplished and plenty of room for innovation. Pioneers are needed at all levels, and interventions now can make important contributions and have profound impact on our future.
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Berry, Thomas. The Great Work: Our Way into the Future. NY: Bell Tower – Random House, Inc., 1999.
Friedman, Lisa, & Gyr, Herman. The Dynamic Enterprise: Tools for Turning Chaos into Strategy and Strategy into Action. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass Business and Management Series / John Wiley & Sons, Inc., 1998.
Hawken, Paul; Lovins, Amory; & Lovins, L. Hunter. Natural Capitalism: Creating the Next Industrial Revolution. Boston: Little, Brown and Company, 1999.
Liebes, Sid; Sahtouris, Elizabeth; & Swimme, Brian. The Walk Through Time: From Stardust to Us — The Evolution of Life on Earth. NY: John Wiley & Sons, Inc., 1998.
McDonough, William and Braungart, Michael. Cradle to Cradle: Re-Making the Way we Make Things. NY: North Point Press, 2002.