Many companies now offer slick “sustainability reports” along with their annual reports as indicators of their performance. The problem is that none of this espoused benevolence creates true sustainability. The root of this problem is neither business’s misunderstanding of what’s at stake nor corporate cynicism about the sustainability cause (though these may be contributing factors). The problem really stems from management’s failure to see unsustainability as a deep-seated systems failure.
Sustainability initiatives can’t be driven through an organization the way other changes can. The authors’ research indicates that successful sustainability initiatives tend to evolve through three distinct phases. Phase 1 involves making the case for change, Phase 2 entails translating vision into action and Phase 3 is about expanding boundaries. Each stage requires different organizational capabilities and leadership competencies.
This year, more survey respondents say sustainability is on their company’s management agenda. Not all companies have found ways to profit from their sustainability efforts — but those that have share some interesting characteristics.
Meeting the sustainability challenge will require the kind of cross-sector collaboration for which there is still no real precedent. It must be co-created by various stakeholders by interweaving work in three realms: the conceptual, the relational and the action-driven.
A founder of the MIT Sloan School of Management’s Sustainability Lab talks about how businesses and governments have to surmount social issues as well as economic ones if they are serious about sustainability.