Section III: A New Cohort: Harvesters Come into Focus

This is part 4 of 8 from “Sustainability Nears a Tipping Point,” a report on the findings of the 2011 Sustainability & Innovation Global Executive Study and Research Project.

Harvesters — those who said that their sustainability-related actions and decisions added to their profits — represent 31% of total respondents to our survey, and exist in every industry covered in our survey. A typical Harvester organization looks different than a typical non-Harvester organization on several dimensions.

Harvesters tend to have a distinctive organizational mindset and design that support sustainability. Compared to non-Harvesters, Harvesters are three times more likely to have a business case for sustainability. They are also 50% more likely to have CEO commitment to sustainability, twice as likely to have a separate sustainability reporting process and twice as likely to have a separate function for sustainability. Harvesters are also 50% more likely to have a person responsible for sustainability in each business unit and more than 2.5 times as likely to have a chief sustainability officer. (See “Harvesters Have Strong Organizational Support.”)

Harvesters Have Strong Organizational Support

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Compared to respondents from other organizations, Harvesters are nearly twice as likely to clearly communicate who has responsibility for sustainability, more than twice as likely to have operational and personal key performance indicators linked to sustainability and 62% more likely to link sustainability with financial incentives. Harvesters also are more than twice as likely to say that sustainability has increased their collaboration with internal business units in diverse national and international locations. (See “Harvesters Link Sustainability and Performance.”)

Some Harvesters are looking at sustainability as a source of innovation, increased market share and improved profit margins. “Before, it was more about the environment, because that’s where the leading indicators were in addressing sustainability,” says Kimberly-Clark’s Ward. “And for us now, it’s about looking at the full spectrum of sustainability.” Andreas Regnell, head of strategy & environment for Vattenfall, one of Europe’s leading energy companies, says that sustainability “allows us to continue to profit and grow, it helps us to be a responsible business and it is crucial for our competitive advantage.”

Harvesters Link Sustainability and Performance

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Regnell’s comment highlights the strength of competitive advantage as a sustainability driver. Having a commitment, a business case and an ethical stance are important. But commitments can falter, execution can fail and belief can be supplanted. The reality is that an organization’s sustainability agenda often becomes deeply embedded in business processes when it adds to profitability over time.

Today, Harvesters’ sustainability practices signal the possibility and potential of sustainability-based success to competitors. As a result, these practices alter the competitive landscape in which Harvesters operate.