The trends are clear, and the stakes are high. Climate change, demographic shifts and population growth are increasing the sustainability demands placed on businesses. Our research has found that companies need not see these demands as a cost burden nor respond to them with tweaks to their businesses or “greenwashing.” Sustainability is both a business necessity and an opportunity, what PepsiCo’s Dan Bena calls the sustainability bull’s-eye. Even moderate changes to company business models can reap significant financial rewards.
Our study found that many companies are generating profits from sustainability. To do so, they are following these five practices:
1. Be prepared to change business models. Business-model innovation is a key indicator of whether a company will profit from its sustainability activities. Since business-model innovations can involve significant corporate change, organizations should address the need for and the speed of that change. Setting multiyear sustainability goals that matter needs consistent top management attention, especially if achieving the goals requires adding new capabilities and changing elements of the business model.
2. Lead from the top, and integrate the effort.
Although the momentum for sustainability efforts is often bottom-up, Sustainability-Driven Innovators lead it from the top. Executives make sure goals are set and tied to strategy. Steering committees and other coordinating groups ensure that knowledge is shared and that good ideas move systematically from pilot to rollout. Sustainability should never be a stand-alone effort. It needs to be integrated into the business and its operations with clear accountabilities.
3. Measure and track sustainability goals and performance. As the adage says: “If you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it.” Sustainability-Driven Innovators use scorecards, KPIs and other integrated reporting tools that track performance against goals. These measures give a clear signal that top management takes the effort seriously. In many cases, sustainability results are a key element of performance reviews and compensation.
4. Understand how customers think about sustainability and what they are willing to pay for in connection with sustainable products or services. Customers aren’t always willing to pay more for a “green” product or service.7 It is important to determine whether they are. In North America, LEED certified buildings have been definitively shown to command price premiums in the real estate market. In some parts of the world, especially Europe, consumers will pay a premium for environmentally sound products.