Don’t Say ‘Sustainability’

recent survey of sustainability leaders conducted through a partnership between VOX Global, Weinreb Group Sustainability Recruiting and the Net Impact Chapter at the University of California, indicates that sustainability executives are at the forefront of developing smart business approaches for the future, while minimising risks and costs and capturing new market opportunities.

The report, Making the Pitch: Selling Sustainability from Inside Corporate America, identified three major strategies that help sustainability leaders achieve results:

1. The art of communication is key

Before taking their jobs, more than 75% of sustainability executives surveyed thought that sector expertise would be the most important factor in determining their success. However, after starting their jobs, all of them reported that interpersonal skills were in fact most critical.

To be successful, sustainability leaders rarely use the “S” word inside their companies. Rather, they discuss sustainability in the lingua franca of their business. Before focusing on specific initiatives, they need to first sell the concept of sustainability – and sell themselves inside their organisations.

Instead of telling the same sustainability story 100 times, sustainability leaders told – and sold – their story to colleagues in 100 different ways.

2. Sustainability leaders collaborate at all levels

The study revealed that collaboration with colleagues at all levels inside a company is vital to success. This finding is even more significant given that the respondents had little to no direct management oversight across the various business units inside their companies. Collaboration requires sustainability leaders to cultivate and hone a diverse set of people skills. To be successful, they need to be good listeners and identify the business reasons and personal motivations that prompt colleagues to take action.

3. Sustainability leaders connect the outside world to key business drivers

Conventional wisdom suggests that pressures from non-governmental organisations or positioning on sustainability ranking tables are important factors that direct attention to social and environmental issues inside a company. In reality, the leaders surveyed recognise that these influences – though often highly visible and persistent – do not necessarily drive corporate behaviour in isolation. The desire to meet customer expectations and to rise above competitors carried significantly more weight with survey respondents.

However, when third party influences start to impact customer preferences and provide competitive advantage, management starts to take notice. Simply put, the key business drivers of winning over the customer and beating the competition still come first.

Read the rest at the Guardian

Photo: Alamy

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