While reading “The 21st century corporation: Ceres roadmap for sustainability”, I felt both inspired and a bit daunted by the realization that there are still so many companies that either do not define their sustainability goals, track them, report them, or engage internal and external stakeholders in conversations around their sustainability goals. One of the roadmap key messages is clear: the purpose of all companies remains to maximize shareholder value. The roadmap attempts to provide ways by which companies can redefine the notion of ”value” as the integration of financial return, social impact and environmental responsibility.
For this to happen, I would argue that two enormous paradigm shifts are needed:
- Public Policy: New standards of triple bottom line (3BL) reporting are to be created and implemented as a global standard for companies to operate by. A 2008 KPMG Survey of Sustainability Reporting (cited in the Ceres roadmap) showed that only 4% of the biggest 250 corporations integrate their sustainability goals and performance in their annual report. The encouraging data are that another 79% of these corporations do issue an annual sustainability report. Extensive changes in international business law are needed to embed 3BL measures in annual reports and, as a result, into the DNA of global and local companies. Based on the latest Copenhagen and Davos meetings, I don’t envision this happening in the near future.
- Internal Company Changes: The best way to embed a 3BL into a company’s DNA is to instate new policies to measure employee performance (and compensation) based on 3BL results. Tying performance to 3BL goals should be implemented from the C-Suite down to all employees. This is most likely to happen in the 4% of the 250 corporations mentioned above. In addition, you can find such companies on our JustMeans company directory, as well as on the directories available on B-Corps, Business for Social Responsibility (BSR) and the Green America's National Green Pages.
However, these are a minority of companies. Many of you are currently wondering: ”If you are a socio-eco innovator currently working in a business unit in which triple bottom line approaches are not discussed, what can you do?”
My answer to this is “help your supervisor and colleagues understand how to make sustainability one of the main forces for innovation and long-term profitability”. The mark of a true leader is to effect change within what they can control. No matter whether you are an executive or a junior analyst, you can choose to walk the talk as a socio-eco innovator and positively contribute to change the definition of value for shareholders.
Easy to say, but how do you do that? Here is a roadmap that can help:
Leverage like-minded professionals within and beyond your company
- If your company issues a sustainability report, look at the authors of the report. Leverage the acknowledgement section of the report as well as the company’s directory to find out who actually did the analyses for the report.
- Do the same thing with the sustainability report issued by your direct competitors (leveraging the acknowledgment section as well as LinkedIn).
- Connect with these like-minded professionals – Understand the frameworks they used for their analyses, and learn who provided them with the data they needed for their analyses. Ask about the current sustainability goals they are working on, and the trends they are seeing for the next couple of years.
These conversations and contacts will help you learn more about the methodology currently used by your company (and your competitors) to measure the socio-eco impacts of their projects. These conversations will also give you the methodology and vocabulary you need to articulate the benefits of 3BL over the single bottom line approach you have been using.
Apply your new knowledge to your own projects
Knowledge without action is useless. You need to have the courage to apply this knowledge to your projects in order to be the change you want to see. Try the following:
- Leverage the web of people and resources that helped your contacts in their previous analyses.
- Make a stellar business case for how integrating sustainability goals and measures into a specific project will help your supervisor and colleagues. To do so might require a bit more work – namely drafting two proposals
- The first proposal will be the ‘business as usual’ proposal. It is designed to demonstrate that you are a great contributor who can generate results within the company’s current procedures and priorities.
- The second proposal will be the ‘innovative 3BL’ proposal. In this proposal you will make your move and add a few (one or two) modifications that will lead to better 3BL while preserving the results that would have been generated through the ‘business as usual’ proposal. Make sure to also integrate how your competitive advantage will increase over your competitors based on the business intelligence you have gathered through your contacts at other firms. This innovative 3BL proposal will show your boss and colleagues that such measures can increase your competitive advantage without compromising your financial results. This second proposal will also show that such 3BL measures are currently readily available and that you can help them implement them within your business unit.
Bridging the gap between intention and action
I can hear you from here – Mrim, you are nuts, don’t you know how busy I am? For the last 2 years, I have been squeezed right and left, and feel lucky to still be employed! I don’t have time to draft even a first good proposal and you want me to draft two? Where am I going to find the time to connect with these like-minded professionals and learn more about these measures?
My answer: Goals we set are goals we get! As an emerging socio-eco innovator, you will have to be the change you want to see. Moving past inertia and business as usual and putting the time and energy to train yourself and to go the extra mile are part of the journey, as well as taking risks, and learning from the failures that are sure to pave your way to success!
To emerge as a leader in socio-eco innovator who knows how to take risks, you need to stay informed and show to your supervisor and colleagues that doing business as usual is actually hurting competitiveness. Go the extra mile, leverage new people and resources to present how achieving 3BL results will lead to long-term competitive advantage for your business. Beyond your own team, make sure to also let others know within your company (and among colleagues who work for your competitors) how much you have been enjoying developing these skills and knowledge, and how much value these could add to the business.
And remember: If you try this 4-5 times and your supervisor and colleagues turn you down each time, by then you will have plenty of contacts in other business units or among your competitors that can facilitate a switch towards a different role or a more innovative company where your newly developed skills and knowledge will be valued and rewarded.
As always, I am looking forward to reading your questions and comments!