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Five ways to sustainability

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Five ways to sustainability

  1. 1. Five Ways to Move Your Organization to Next-Stage Sustainability Paige SoffenandTrishaKing September21,2015 Overthe nexttwoweeks,headsof state,dignitaries,andcorporateexecutiveswilldescendonManhattan, NewYork,for the UnitedNations General Assemblymeeting,the launchof the Sustainable Development Goals,the ClintonGlobal InitiativeAnnualMeeting,andthe firstevervisitfromPopeFrancis.Eachof these events, at its core, focuses on creating better conditions for global society to thrive. As the most powerful institution of our day, business, with its capacity to create social, environmental, and economic value for wider society, should listen closelyand take notes as these events unfold. Fortunately, many global companiesare alreadywell ontheirwaytoward developing their own plans for aligning their business strategies with the common good. Below, we share insightsfrom top sustainability strategists, each a member of the Aspen Institute Business&SocietyLeadersForum,who are helping their companies move beyond incremental change — to addressing global social and environmental issues at a systems level. 1. Look for allies in unlikely places and become one yourself. You can’t move the needle alone. The best sustainability strategists look for untapped resources and unlikelyalliestohelppropelthe sustainabilityagendaforward.Assuch,itisimportanttothinkdeeplyand strategically about which departments and individuals you might be able to work with in new and innovative ways. Talya Bosch, vice president of internal communicationsandsocial venturesatWestern Union,has a strong partnershipwithherhuman resourcesdepartment.“AtWesternUnion,”she said,“the degree towhichan employee exhibits behaviors consistent with the company’s responsibility goals is a metric included in employee performance reviews.” When Michael Kobori, vice president of sustainability at Levi Strauss & Co., needs to generate new approachesto marketingandsellingsustainability,he lookstohise-commerce andretail colleagueswho have become unexpected allies. “Colleagues in these functions are seeking new and innovative ways to engage consumers and we are able to create some exciting programs withthem, including our clothing recycling initiative, which launched in all our US retail stores last month,” he said.
  2. 2. Asimportantasitistofindallies,Koborinotesthatitisalsoessentialtobe one yourself.“Insteadof asking who your best allies are, ask yourself if you are the right ally for others to help drive the business,” he said. “Do you really understandpricing,supplychain, regulations, and compliance? Sometimes in order to close loops and build bridges, we first need to acquire more knowledge.” 2. Frame, re-frame, and frame again. Be readyto tell yourstory 10 differentwaysto 10 differentinfluencers.Youwill needthemall on board inorderto reachnextstage corporate sustainability.Whatframe bestexplainsthe businessimperative to each influencer?Isit operational efficiency,consumerdemand,internal culture,resource availability,or disaster preparedness/resilience? Nicola Acutt, Vice President of global sustainability strategy and giving at VMware, connects sustainabilityto one of the company’s core technologies: virtualization software. “A key value proposition for the software has alwaysbeenthatithelpscustomersreducecosts because theycan linkseveral operatingsystems and applicationstorunonone physical serveror ‘host,’” Acutt said, “Working with our business leads is critical to framing the environmental benefits associated with our software solutions in a way that is relevant and compelling to customers and partners.” At the same time, Acutt also works closely with HR executives to connect her work with the company’s culture, values, and employee experience because “sustainability is a talent and employment brand differentiator.”Asa resultof usingmultiple framestoillustratethe value of sustainability,she hasfound business leaders across functions are enthusiastic to support the company’s sustainability strategy. 3. Recognize signals. As a cross-functional leader within your company, you should begin to see yourself as an intelligence gatherer. Become an expert at synthesizing information and data from across your organization and picking up on signs and future trends. Take Mark Weick, director of sustainability at Dow: he believes “trendspotting” is an essential aspect of his job. “Sometimes we think an issue is just social or environmental… until it becomes an economic one,” he said. “Forecasting when the social or environmental issuewillbecome economic— and developingproducts,services,andpracticesbasedon those signals — is key to advancing next-stage sustainability within your organization.” “We view futures thinking as an essential skill for 21st century leaders in citizenship — after all, sustainability at its core is about creating a brighter future for the world,” said Aaron Frank, director of corporate citizenshipatDisney.“We’ve builtateamof practitionerswithincitizenshipatDisneytofocus on developing this skill. We invest in the team through focused trainings and applied learning opportunities.Inturn,theydedicatetimetoidentifyingthelatesttrendsthatmayaffectourbusinessand citizenship efforts.” 4. Be ready to act at a moment’s notice.
  3. 3. As an executive working within a large, complex organization — often with competing priorities and an infinite numberof projectsthatneedfunding — you mustbe readyto pitch,frame,woo,and cajole at a moment’snotice.Youneverknowwhenyou mightsee an opportunitytostrategicallypushyourideaor program into the spotlight. Hesitate and the opportunity might disappear. That is why, as one Leaders Forum member said, “Planned opportunism is the key.” 5. Dare to challenge the culture. Creatinga culture that supportsinnovative,long-termvalue creationismissioncritical toreaching next- stage corporate sustainability. “It goes beyond building a culture that allows people to be creative, celebrate success,andlearnfromfailure,”saidone Forummember.“Whenitcomestochangingculture, youhave to be constructivelydissatisfied...Withthatstance youwill avoidcomplacencyandstayvigilant for opportunities to adapt and change." Although you can’t actually prototype culture itself, companies can prototype things like strategy, structure, process, and incentives to see if they lead to the desired behaviors in the organization. Members of the Leaders Forum are thinking deeply about how to cultivate this culture within their companies. One critical lever is hiring and retaining employees that support this culture. In early 2016, the Business and Society Program plans to continue exploring how HR/talent practices contribute to a culture that supports next-stage corporate sustainability. Stay tuned and visit the Leaders Forum webpages for more information. Voices is a periodic series reflecting the expertise of the Aspen Institute Business and Society Leaders Forum. The Forum, created in 2012, is a working platform for senior sustainability executives. Paige Soffen is a senior program associate at the Aspen Institute Business and Society Program (BSP). Trisha King is a program coordinator at BSP. For citation and referencing this blog in APA format Soffen,P.,&King,T. (2015). Five waysto move yourorganizationtonext-stage sustainability.TheAspen Idea Blog, September21, 2015. Availableat:http://www.aspeninstitute.org/about/blog/5-ways- move-your-organization-next-stage-sustainability.Retrievedon:October24, 2015.

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