Making Sustainability a Business Advantage

By Desda Moss Jan 25, 2017
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Business leaders need to embrace sustainability—and embed it into their organization's core mission—in order to ensure lasting success, according to the authors of The Sustainability Edge: How to Drive Top-Line Growth with Triple-Bottom-Line Thinking (Rotman-UTP Publishing, 2017). Suhas Apte, former sustainability officer for the Kimberly-Clark Corp., and Jagdish N. Sheth, professor of marketing in the Goizueta Business School at Emory University, describe how best-in-class companies embrace social, environmental and financial considerations to achieve long-term prosperity.

Through case studies drawn from companies such as Wal-Mart, AT&T, Ikea and the Tata Group, Apte and Sheth provide an actionable framework for how employers can promote sustainability to multiple stakeholders, including customers, employees, suppliers, investors and the government.

Each chapter in the book focuses on one of nine key stakeholder groups, providing guidance on how to make sustainability an integral part of a company's culture and its overall corporate strategy. The book also includes a Stakeholder Sustainability Audit that allows organizations to benchmark their activities.

The chapter on "Inspiring Employees," which describes how to get workers to adopt sustainability as a strategy and integrate it into every business operation and relationship, should be of particular interest to HR practitioners. The authors explain how employers can reinforce a sustainability mindset to energize and engage their employees, making their enterprises stronger in the process.

The book outlines four ways employers can promote sustainability:

  • Seek employees' input when developing internal and external community-related sustainability programs.
  • Provide a framework so that sustainability initiatives support the company's goals.
  • Make sustainability part of employees' goal-setting and appraisal processes.
  • Create a sustainability ecosystem where employees are engaged and can thrive by making initiatives strategic, gaining stakeholder buy-in, promoting transparency and recognizing employees who demonstrate a commitment to sustainability.

Here's one example from the book of how a sustainability program can boost a business's bottom line: A manager at a Wal-Mart store in North Carolina noticed that the vending machines in employee break rooms had lights that ran all the time, even though employees could see the products inside without them. The company saved more than $1 million a year in electricity costs by turning off the vending machine lights in all break areas. The store manager was recognized by Wal-Mart's leadership and was featured in articles in The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal.

Those kinds of results garner employers the kind of edge that every organization seeks to sustain.

Desda Moss is managing editor of HR Magazine.

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