10 action items for your sustainability strategy, ala 'Green to Gold Playbook'

If you're looking for a practical guide to best practices, this book is chuck full of check lists, examples and resources to consult.
Written by Heather Clancy, Contributor

Most businesses have become convinced of their need to act with sustainability in mind, but how do you make sure that strategy results in competitive advantage? That's the knowledge that "The Green to Gold Business Playbook," seeks to impart.

The tome is a follow-up to the bestseller "Green to Gold," which makes the case for why businesses should adopt a sustainability strategy in the first place. It was written by Daniel Esty, a Yale University professor and director of the Center for Business and the Environment at the school, and P.J. Simmons, chairman of the Corporate Eco Forum, a network of Global 500 executives interest in sharing best practices about corporate sustainability and eco-innovation. So, that should give you an idea of where the ideas in the book originate.

Because this sort of thing can be overwhelming (after all, this is a 440-page book with all the indexes and such), I thought it would be useful to provide the authors' top 10 Action Items. The themes here provide the construct for the rest of the book, so you have an idea of where you'll be pointed.

  1. Spot the Issues: You'll need to look at two sets of things here, according to Esty and Simmons. The first relates to how the industry that your company operates in is dealing with sustainability issues as a whole, which means that there may or may not be precedent for some of the challenges your company will have to tackle. The second relates to how changing certain practices, such as sourcing, would affect your company's operations. The authors write: "Price changes in natural resources, most notably oil or other fossil fuels, could realign the competitive landscape favoring those who have invested in efficiency and penalizing those with resource-intensive business models."
  2. Benchmark and Prioritize: The authors suggests comparing where your company stands to other companies in the same industry, businesses known to be sustainability leaders (not necessarily in your industry) and a list of items that the authors provide in the book.
  3. Articulate a Vision: This will put your company on notice that environmental issues are a concern for senior management, which should have the effect of getting employees to pay attention.
  4. Look for Eco-Advantage: Give priority to action items that won't just reduce risk but that will put your company at a competitive advantage against industry rivals.
  5. Make Someone Accountable: Many companies have sustainability strategies that are executed by cross-functional teams, which makes sense. But you still need to rally people around these ideas. The most effective sustainability strategies were "co-created" collaboratively, the authors note. They are driven by key performance indicators, including bonuses and incentives tied to success against sustainability goals. The authors note: "Doubt about the seriousness of this commitment leads skeptics to drag their feet and underperform."
  6. Mobilize Employees: The good news is that most people apparently want to work for companies that are seen as responsible environmental stewards. So, the book suggests ways to make sure employee ideas are collected -- after all, these are the people at the frontline -- and shared throughout the organization. Build consciousness about the vision by including information in employee training and human resources development materials.
  7. Engage All Stakeholders: This means looking outside to customers, suppliers, community leaders business partners -- anyone that could be affected by the sustainability strategy or that might have an opinion about the strategy that they are inclined to share publicly. This is a reminder that your agenda cannot be developed in isolation.
  8. Disclose What's Happening: Companies could save themselves time by creating data on an ongoing basis rather than engaging in once-a-year information-hunting exercises. Transparency and accuracy are the imperatives here.
  9. Just Do It: Strategy needs to get tactical at some point. I love this tip from the authors: "Start by doing old things in new ways that address sustainability pressures. Then turn to doing new things such as delivering green products and services that generate added value."
  10. Repeat: One of the most important things to remember about any strategy is that it will be a moving target. A great example is the fact that energy-efficiency plans and agendas were all the rage just two years ago, while you barely heard water management mentioned. Now, water conservation has jumped the top of many companies' list of concerns. It isn't that energy-efficiency isn't important, it is that the climate for sustainability will continue to change as resource needs change. The authors write: "What might have counted as a leading-edge position in sustainability last year, will often by a baseline requirement for the next year. So targets must be constantly revisited and reset."

If you are the kind of manager who loves checklists and benchmark gauges, you will appreciate this book, since it is chuck full of those sorts of things as well as examples of what leading companies have done about some of the action items listed above. The "Green to Gold Playbook" also includes lists upon lists of resources that could aid in your corporate quest for sustainability.

This post was originally published on Smartplanet.com

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