By Greg Balestrero
Sustainability leaders are no longer hard to find. With the proliferation of global sustainability reporting and detailed web presences, it has become much easier to track the outstanding characteristics that separate the leaders from the rest of the pack.
However, I am a realist, too…generalizations can sometimes rear their ugly heads. But by and large, sustainability leaders and their organizations distinguish themselves by embracing strategy in seven important ways:
1. Building and utilizing Enterprise Risk “Radar.”
These organizations possess the ability and corporate competence to identify critical risks that could either damage or enhance their success. This capability goes beyond traditional financial risks and includes risks from social, environmental, and ethical practices.
2. Clearly defining sustainability strategies, which are integrated into the long-term company strategy.
Usually the long-term organizational strategy embraces sustainability in their values and in their goal setting.
3. Deliberately deploying sustainability initiatives.
Most of these companies employ some form of balanced scorecard to ensure that initiatives are driven by the strategy and that progress can be assessed with clear measures and metrics.
4. Being accountable and transparent.
Coca-Cola, BMW, and Walmart reported progress against mileposts or goals at all levels in the organization, and most organizations reported them through publicly available annual reports, either through their normal annual report or through guidelines from the Global Reporting Initiative (GRI).
5. Assessing the sustainability of the supply and value chains.
Successful transformations occur in companies that recognize their sustainability responsibility throughout their value and supply chains. Accountability in the supply chains, compliance to supplier codes of behavior and conduct, enforcement of all proprietary sustainability requirements, and leveraging the power of being the “owner” of the chain were all approaches used by the companies we studied in our book.
6. Using a collaborative approach to solving industry-wide sustainability challenges.
In nearly all cases, the companies were willing to partner with universities, NGOs, and even competitors to solve industry-wide sustainability problems. They recognized that there were some problems that were too large for one company to tackle, no matter how large the company.
7. Having governance models that are responsive, accountable, and informed.
In all cases, the companies recognize that informed decision making regarding sustainability initiatives is critical to success. This meant that decision makers were connected to strategy and responsible for execution. You never have to go looking for a decision in these organizations!