An Elephant in the Sustainability Room: Growth

In today’s business model, growth is a given—an imperative. “Grow or die” is the undisputed maxim of business leaders. The stock market punishes companies that do not meet growth expectations. Growth is good. However, continuous growth appears to be at odds with sustainability principles. Growth is the 'un-discussable' elephant in the board rooms of companies aspiring to a sustainable business model. So let’s make it discussable. Since growth is synonymous with progress and with winning in the game of business, we need to show how sustainability strategies are relevant and support companies’ growth goals. Yet we know that continuous growth is inherently unsustainable, given the finite carrying capacity of the planet. In nature, continuous growth is called cancer. In fact, passionate, principled champions of sustainability find it repugnant to suggest they should help companies grow since it is against their core values to do so. That’s why some shy away from the “sustainable development” label—development implies growth, and growth is unsustainable. Ergo, “sustainable development” is an oxymoron. Read More

Sustainability – The 4-Step Transformation from Stage 3 to Stage 4

Is it really possible for a company to become a sustainable enterprise? Yes, it is. But, it requires a significant transformation. No company will undertake such a significant metamorphosis unless it increases its value. In fact, each step must benefit the company or it will be difficult to convince shareholders and other important stakeholders that it should go further on the sustainability journey. The four stepping-stones from an unsustainable company to a sustainable business model are designed to ensure that each step produces real business benefits. In my July 27, 2010, blog, I described the five-stage journey that a business follows—as it moves from an unsustainable enterprise in Stages 1, 2, and 3 to a sustainable enterprise in Stages 4 or 5. In my August 3 blog, we looked at four reasons the current take-make-waste model of business used in Stages 1-3 is not sustainable. In my August 10 blog, we contrasted the take-make-waste model with a sustainable, cyclical, borrow-use-return model of commerce. This week, we will drill down to examine four critical stepping-stones between Stages 3 and 4. Read More

5 Criteria for a Sustainable Business Model

It’s one thing to critically assess how today’s dominant business model is not sustainable; it’s another thing to design one that is. As sustainability champions, we need to have a positive vision of the pot of gold at end of the sustainability rainbow. We need to be able to respond to a “put up or shut up” challenge with a description of a sustainable business model that is better for the environment, society, and the company. In my August 3, 2010 blog, I described four critical attributes of today’s way of doing business that make it unsustainable. We are facing serious constraints as we experience a rising demand from an exploding world population for increasingly scarce resources. Today’s linear take-make-waste business model is not designed to handle this reality. In fact, it is culpable for contributing to its unsustainability. Read More

4 Reasons our Current Business Model is Unsustainable

Sooner or later, there is a tough message that sustainability champions need to deliver to harried business leaders—the business game they are playing can’t continue. It’s been fun, but if they keep playing the game the way they are, everyone will lose. The rules need to be updated— quickly. That contention is probably not the best conversation-opener with a senior business leader. But, at some point along the line, sustainability champions should be ready to gently help them see that their current model of doing business is not sustainable. Read More

The 5-Stage Sustainability Journey

As companies progress toward being sustainable enterprises, we can position them on a five-stage sustainability continuum. They evolve from an unsustainable model of business in Stages 1, 2 and 3, to a sustainable business framework in Stages 4 or 5. Executive mindsets also evolve from thinking of “green,” “environmental,” and “sustainable” initiatives as expensive and bureaucratic threats in the early stages, to recognizing them as catalysts for strategic growth in the later stages. We will use the 3-nested-dependencies model of a sustainable society, described in my July 20, 2010 blog, to describe the characteristics of companies in the five key stages on their sustainability journeys. Read More

3 Sustainability Models

As sustainability champions, we are sometimes confronted by frustrated people who ask what we mean by “sustainability.” What they really want to know is sustainability’s relevance to them, their organization, or their community. Is it a threatening concept, or a friendly one? Or maybe it’s just a fancy, multiple-syllable word for something to which they are already paying attention, at least partially? Read More

5 Strategies to Finding a Sustainability Job

We all seek the holy grail of a position that matches our convictions, needs, and competencies. People who want to make a difference sometimes ask me for advice on how to find a job in the “sustainability sector.” The bad news is that there is no such sector, any more than there is a “quality sector.” The good news is that there are roles in organizations that include varying degrees of responsibility for sustainability: in the organization, with its suppliers, and/or helping its clients become more sustainable enterprises.  Here are five strategies to help find one of those great jobs. Read More

3 More Ways to Reframe Sustainability for CEOs

Short Term Sustainability-based Strategies for Smart CEOs

As sustainability champions, we need to respect executives’ current priorities and help them save face if they “have no time right now” for sustainability. We need to find out what executives do have time for. Then, reframe our proposals as enabling strategies to help them address their urgent, pressing challenges— rather than as one more goal to worry about. Agree with their priorities. Meet them where they are. Honor their terminology and mindset; and suggest how sustainability-based strategies will help to achieve their current goals. Read More

5 Ways to Reframe Sustainability Strategies for CEOs

Sustainability language is often the Achilles heel of passionate sustainability advocates. We need to be smarter about borrowing C-suite (as in CEO, CFO, Chief-anything) language to adeptly reframe the “so-what” of our sustainability strategies and visions. We need to connect with senior executives’ language, context, and priorities. We need to build commitment when addressing tough, long-term business issues with sustainability-related strategies, often without ever using the S-word. So, what are the future issues and trends that CEOs are worried about; and how can we apply sustainability strategies to these areas? There are several dilemmas causing consternation in the executive circles these days, as described in the three recent articles and reports below: Read More

12 News Services That Help Sustainability Champions Stay Credible

Once sustainability champions take on the challenge of engaging others in environmental or social initiatives, they inevitably become viewed as “experts.” That’s the blessing and curse of any leader. It’s a tough label to live up to as you are faced with questions and challenges to your proposals. Fortunately, there are excellent online news services that help sustainability champions stay current and credible. As outlined in The Sustainability Champion’s Guidebook, people expect sustainability champions to be trustworthy and to know what they are talking about—to be credible in three ways. Read More