Deloitte report links being 'social' and being sustainable

Firm's survey of reps for 48 global companies finds big focus on environmental issues; few are consulting their communities of interest to refine their strategy. Yet.
Written by Heather Clancy, Contributor

What are the biggest companies in the world prioritizing as part of their corporate sustainability efforts? A new Deloitte report, called "Sustainability in business today: A cross-industry view," suggests that while environmental issues are currently the primary focus of many programs, the "social license to operate" could be a major factor in helping companies achieve true competitive advantage.

This philosophy comes back to the fact that most people define sustainability as attention to the "triple bottom line" -- economic performance, environmental responsibility and social consciousness. The report's authors write:

"We believe that it is becoming an imperative for companies to consider broadening their sustainability efforts in the communities in which they operate as well as to the physical environment. Attention to social sustainability issues should help organizations in their efforts to drive for competitive advantage by helping them establish or maintain a 'social license to operate' in their target communities and markets: that is, to gain the support of the people who live and work in these communities and/or markets."

If you think about it, that's what some of the notable leaders in sustainability strategy are doing. When I read this statement, I thought immediately of Coca-Cola, a company that I interviewed about sustainability late last year. By getting involved with the communities where it maintain manufacturing and distribution operations, the company has refined its sustainability efforts. In effect, its community has pointed the way as to where it should concentrate. In this case, water is the big thing.

So, you could see where getting more social would make sense, which is one reason I also am following SAP's approach to this issue. SAP has one of the most interactive corporate social responsibility sites on the web today. Its goals are updated at least quarterly (not just one per year) and it includes feedback from social networking sites.

I guess I should mention that Deloitte's report is based on chats it had with 48 executives who are involved with the sustainability operations within their company, and it represents multiple industries. Here are some of the key statistical findings:

  • 46 percent of those interviewed said that changes related to manufacturing and operations represented one of the greatest opportunities to become more sustainable
  • 25 percent of the respondents said their sustainability efforts included plans to make their own products more efficient (note to self: why not more?)
  • 23 percent of the executives notes plans to create entirely new "green" product lines (note to self: why not more?)
  • This biggie: Almost three-quarters of those interviewed said sustainability will not lead to new "green collar" jobs; today's workforce will just need to think differently and expand their interests
  • And, another biggie: 66 percent of those interviewed by Deloitte said sustainability will have some impact on their overall business model

Finally, I'll leave you with this interesting way that Deloitte suggests you use to grade your maturity when it comes to sustainable. Here are the four phases it defines:

  1. Reactive or little response
  2. Managing direct risks and costs
  3. Established strategy and stakeholder collaboration
  4. Integrated strategy for competition advantage

Where does your company lie on this continuum?

This post was originally published on Smartplanet.com

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