Too many companies have approached sustainability initiatives in a way that is just plain unsustainable. To foster more lasting change, it’s important to address six of the biggest stumbling blocks.
The current corporate sustainability movement is unsustainable. Not because companies are pursuing the wrong goals — but because they are going about them the wrong way. Never before have companies been more conscious of the need to run their businesses in an environmentally, socially, and economically responsible fashion. Yet never before have theory and practice been wider apart. When it comes to practicing and not just preaching sustainability, many companies struggle, and most flounder in developing and implementing a sustainable business model. Executives know and feel the importance of making their businesses sustainable. But many of them can’t make the transformation occur. Worse still, many don’t even know they’re failing.
In our combined experiences as an educator and consultant (CB Bhattacharya) and as the CEO of a large consumer products company and the chairman of the World Business Council for Sustainable Development (Paul Polman), we have had the opportunity to observe and work with multinationals that have had various degrees of success developing and implementing a sustainable business model designed to integrate environmental and societal concerns into business decisions. Based on observations of a number of companies, we have now been able to identify six “pain points,” or thorny challenges, that seem to be the biggest stumbling blocks. (See “About the Research.”) Below, we identify these challenges and offer practical advice on how to surmount them.
1. Sustainability is more than just a change initiative.