Martin P Wilson

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A Business Manifesto; Environmental Responsibility and Profitability

Strategy for Sustainability Cover - Harvard Business PressThis new approach to strategy shows how businesses can plan for long-term success when resource constraints affect markets, customers, communities and the environment.

Hurricane Katrina was an eye opener for Adam Werbach, a long time campaigner on environmental issues. Conventional environmental arguments had failed to get action from the New Orleans’ city authorities to improve their flood defences. After the disaster, major businesses solved the logistical problems to get goods into the disaster area faster than the official relief organisations.

Assumptions and Challenges for Business Sustainability

As result the author realised that he should collaborate with business and harness their skills and knowledge to achieve his objectives. In developing that approach Adam Werbach found that real sustainability was also a good business strategy. Strategy and Sustainability is the result.

He sets out seven drivers (tenets) of a strategy for sustainability:

  1. Natural resources becoming increasingly rare and costly
  2. Massive demographic change
  3. People as most important renewable resource
  4. Cash flow is more important than short term profits
  5. Organisations’ operating environment will change dramatically
  6. Chaotic world requires internal cohesion and flexibility
  7. True transparency will be essential to business survival

North Star Goal – Analysis and Setting the Strategic Direction

Strategy for Sustanaibility sets out STaR, a rapid SWOT or PEST-like approach to initial analysis of Society, Technology and natural Resources. From that the business should be able to articulate its North Star goal to provide its strategic direction.

The STaR approach analyses the business against:

  • Changes in Society
  • Changes in technology, and
  • Changes of Resources.

Unusually Werbach suggests that with the current maturity of sustainability based strategies across the corporate world there is no need to include analysis of competitors’ response. He argues that any business that adopts sustainability seriously will automatically be a leader – that will change over time if more organisations accept Strategy for Sustainability as a business model. However it will be some time in the future before it is common let alone universal.

Executing the Business Strategy and Building Plans

Strategy for Sustainability provides the key elements for implementing the strategy and delivering the North Star goal. They use positive-feedback loop based on:

  • Transparency – be open; share knowledge and data with customers and staff. Keep them informed so that they understand the objectives, culture and the business context. Be open to scrutiny and recognise the four phases of transparency:
    • Blind spots
    • Awareness
    • Compliance
    • Transparency
  • Engagement – work with all employees actively and getting them setting their own goals to contribute to the corporate North Star goal. Making it personal will enable many small changes to contribute to the goal and especially to the culture as the business lives the vision.
  • Networks - encourage everyone to look outside the company for ideas and solutions. Work with similar businesses and others that share similar challenges. Do not reinvent the wheel if there are solutions out there in other sectors, be open. A company cannot implement its strategy alone.

Small Steps, Giant Leap for Business; and Society

This is a book that ought to have real impact. It is well-written, easily understood and light on the usual management gobbledygook and hair-shirt environmentalism. The ideas are straightforward and realistic. This is a highly accessible book that presents important ideas to meet complex needs in a straightforward way. It is an easy, even breezy, read but it most certainly is not lightweight.

Writers on other complex subjects should learn from Adam Werbach’s style in Strategy for Sustainability. The best intellects have the ability to formulate a concept that may itself be complex but present it in a simple manner that is readily understood by the intelligent layman. This book achieves that. Too many writers hide weak ideas behind impenetrable language; the reverse is true for Adam Werbach and Strategy for Sustainablity.

The Author

Adam Werbach is a long time environmental activist, writer and thought leader. He is Global CEO of Saatchi and Saatchi and a former Sierra Club President. He has the business and environmental credentials to give Strategy for Sustainability; A Business Manifesto real authority.

Strategy for Sustainability: A Business Manifesto ( ISBN: 978-1-4221-7770-9) by Adam Werbach is published on 6th July 2009 by Harvard Business Press at $25.

 

First appeared on Suite101

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