The Importance of a Sustainability Strategy

Recently a potential (unnamed) client came to us to discuss conducting an LCA (Life Cycle Assessment) of a recycling program they were implementing. Without going into too many details, the goal of the study was to highlight how the proposed program was more “green” than an alternative option (i.e. not recycling).

Sounds great, right?

After reviewing the parameters of the study, it became apparent to us that this program was not going to be more “green” than the alternative, making it somewhat of a waste.

Regardless of the outcome, it brought us to ask them- why are you doing this?

The program seemed like a cool idea, but the fundamental flaw with it was that it did not support the company’s over-arching strategy.

I see this all the time at Fortune 500 corporations tackling sustainability. They want to reduce their impact and tell a great business story, so they create an interesting, well intentioned initiative that often goes no where because it does not fit into the overall sustainability strategy.

Strategy, whether it’s tied to sustainability, sales, PR, etc, is the framework for how an organization should face a business challenge. It sets out the plans, risks, targets, milestones, responsibilities, etc for how it will get to an objective.

Yet many companies do not even have a sustainability strategy in place!

Looking back at the potential client referenced above, their program’s aim was to maintain the company’s image of being “green.” However this image was not supported by any strategy, and lacks the proper business practices, data, and systems to support it.

The recycling program, whether green or not, probably would not have lasted very long.

I think the best recent example of a company that IS doing a great job of building a sustainability framework is Ford. Sustainability is a “strategic imperative” according to Sue Rokosz, Principal Environmental Engineer at Ford. Improved manufacturing processes, higher MPG vehicles, and overall footprint reductions are all initiatives that are reducing their impact, improving the green image of the company, and supporting the overall sustainability strategy at Ford.

The potential client decided not to move forward with the program and we lost the opportunity to conduct the LCA. However, I was glad the client didn’t waste their money.

Hopefully they will revisit implementing a sustainability strategy and determine if the recycling program will fit into that later on.

TAGS: sustainability, strategy, LCA, green, corporate, consulting, management