As sustainability-related pressures change the competitive landscape, what kinds of capabilities and characteristics will that landscape demand of companies that aim to thrive? Here’s what Business of Sustainability survey respondents and sustainability thought leaders say.
Necessary capabilities are in short supply
The graphs show which tools and capabilities survey respondents believe will be increasingly needed as sustainability alters competition. But most also expressed relatively limited concern about their companies having distinct shortcomings in the technical or operational capabilities required. The interviewed thought leaders disagreed. Executives are underestimating the challenge, they say. They argue that companies will need to develop and master a multitude of new capabilities and tools — and take a number of actions — if they are to execute their sustainability strategies successfully. They believe companies will have to be good at: (1) Adopting a broad, systems-thinking approach to their business, and modeling effects over the long term. (2) Forming more-effective partnerships and alliances and working in more concerted ways with stakeholders, regulators, and other influencers. (3) Knowing how and when to partner to achieve maximum advantage. (4) Adding scenario-planning capabilities that allow the company effectively to build resilience to unpredictable future environments and external shocks, such as sharp swings in commodity prices. (5) Developing tracking, measuring and reporting capabilities. (6) Effectively practicing transparency, as the expectations bar for it continues to rise. (7) Retooling R&D, product development, and sales and marketing to reimagine how products are designed, made, used and recycled. (8) Enhancing capabilities in innovating organizational models and management practices — including reorienting incentive and reward systems to promote long-term thinking and multidisciplinary collaboration. In the near future, the thought leaders claim, these capabilities and tools may represent table stakes for managers and organizations. Already, many best-in-class companies possess them.