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Sustainability Demands Innovative Solutions

Posted By Lisa Bodell, July 01, 2011 at 10:58 AM, in Category: Sustainability

Sustainability has come a long way. No longer considered the domain of environmentalists and do-gooders, it’s now generally accepted as a critical business imperative for just about every organization. One of the forces driving this shift, of course, is the fact that consumers worldwide are demanding that companies play a larger role in solving the sustainability challenge. In China, for example, more than 25% of consumers feel that corporations have a responsibility to tackle environmental issues, but only 15% think corporations are taking action, according to OgilvyEarth’s recent report Get Going With Green: Closing the Sustainability Gap.

Though sustainability has moved beyond the fad phase, most organizations clearly have a lot of work ahead of them to achieve progress. Those that take on the challenge, however, stand to make significant inroads with the millions of consumers who value sustainability.

The best way to approach sustainability is to truly integrate it into the business, instead of treating it as an afterthought. Some of the biggest international companies have achieved this by developing their own innovative strategies.

Whole Foods: Leading With Values
As a mission-driven organization focused on “Whole Foods, Whole People, Whole Planet” from the start, Whole Foods was way ahead of its time with regards to sustainability. It was the first Fortune 500 company to offset 100% of its energy consumption by purchasing renewable energy credits. Whole Foods also pursues more specialized “green” initiatives that make sense for its business, from supporting local producers to leading the industry in expanding sustainable agriculture.

Nike: Turning Scrutiny Into Opportunity
Like many large corporations, Nike has faced censure for some of its practices over the years, including environmental and labor issues. Instead of continuing to view scrutiny as a hindrance to success, Nike stepped back and considered how it could transform these inquiries into an opportunity for advantage. Corporate responsibility is now a major initiative at Nike, complete with a public-facing Website (www.nikebiz.com/responsibility) that documents related goals, progress, and news.

Starwood: Testing Big Ideas in Small Doses
Starwood Hotels & Resorts—known for world-renowned brands such as Westin, St. Regis, W, and Sheraton—launched a new concept in 2006 called Element. Billed as an “eco-chic” hotel group, Element is Starwood’s green brand, with environmentally friendly features such as low-flow faucets, recycled fibers in carpets, and priority parking for hybrid vehicles. While Element is its own brand, Starwood also uses it as a testing ground for green innovations that, if successful, will not only be incorporated across the Starwood family but may eventually revolutionize sustainable practices throughout the hospitality industry.

Coca-Cola: Going Public With Big Goals
Like Nike, Coca-Cola has faced harsh criticism for some of its practices—the most significant being the massive amount of water it uses to create its products, often depleting the supplies of nearby environments and communities. The company recently pledged a goal of “water neutrality” (much like carbon neutrality) in which it aims to replenish every drop of water it uses by investing in projects such as wastewater recapture and river ecosystems.

How is your organization approaching sustainability? Can you create a “test kitchen” in one area of your business to pilot sustainable practices? Would you benefit from making your initiatives more public, giving stakeholders access to information about your progress? Sustainability isn’t only about carbon credits or reducing pollution. It’s about using innovation—the same powerful tool you apply to challenges like product development—in a way that addresses consumer concerns about sustainability to better position your organization for success.

Lisa Bodell is CEO of futurethink (futurethink.com), an innovation research and training firm.

Category: Sustainability
Written by Lisa Bodell

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