In Your Organization

Sustainability begins at home.  How can you get your house in order? 
NBS September 28, 2017
Smart sustainability efforts do pay back – sometimes quickly, sometimes slowly. Start by understanding the economic value of a sustainability initiative or recommendation. Let those numbers pave the way to convincing leaders and colleagues.  
 
Researchers studying the business case for sustainability have identified general trends and specific benefits. As with many research topics, not every study points in exactly the same direction. Yet, most studies show that responsible firms attract employees, encounter less resistance from the regulators, and discover new opportunities for innovation. All of these things can build the bottom line case.

If your organization is a large company or institution, Make the Case, which spells out the links between social and environmental action and economic value, can help you begin demonstrating the value of sustainability initiatives. 

If you are in a small or medium-sized enterprise (SME), our Green Pays site is especially geared toward smaller firms and startups. 

Take Action

Sustainability can seem overwhelming, with so many possible approaches and entry points. We suggest starting with strategy. By focusing on sustainability actions that make strategic sense, you’ll have a better shot at capturing value from your new initiatives, and having your colleagues and customers “get it.” 

NBS has resources on both strategic processes and organizational activities.

Shift Your Business Strategy

If you’re a senior leader, or have top management’s ear, integrate sustainability into organizational strategy. Here are a number of ways to approach sustainability from a strategic perspective.

Decision-Making & Strategic Planning

First, consider what the future has in store, and how your organization can best respond — or even shape that future. NBS research on Planning for a Shared Vision of a Sustainable Future identifies four different strategic planning approaches — adaptation, projection, shaping the future, and transformation — and when and how to use them. Our report on Decision Making provides additional tools to help organizations factor sustainability criteria into complex decisions; tools include Structured Decision-Making and Multi-Criteria Decision Analysis.

Innovation

Innovation can help prepare your company for the future. Baking sustainability into the innovation process can result in new products and services for your customers, financial gain for your organization and healthier relationships with people and the natural environment.NBS’s report on Innovating for Sustainability lays out different innovation pathways and specific best practices. 
The most fundamental kind of innovation is a new business model. Historically, business models have emphasized value for company and consumer. Yet some companies are turning to models that consider value for other stakeholders. The result: innovative approaches such as industrial symbiosis and B-corps. Draw on Business Models for Shared Value to rethink your value proposition—or understand the firms that have transformed theirs. 

CEO Decision-Making

CEO and senior leadership support can make or break a firm’s sustainability efforts. Why do some leaders make the shift to incorporate sustainability into their decision-making—and what holds others back? NBS’s guide to CEO Decision-Making identifies what leads CEOs to take action on sustainability. It also provides concrete suggestions for how you can support your CEO in this journey towards understanding and valuing sustainability. 

Long-Term Thinking

Finally, one common obstacle to sustainability is the pressure for short-term payback. Taking a long-term perspective can make businesses more economically viable and more socially responsible. How can decision-makers say “yes” to actions that are good for the company in the next year, or next quarter, as well as the next generation? Our report, Long-Term Thinking in a Short-Term World, helps you identify the right balance of short- and long-term actions for value now and in the future.

Adapt Organizational Activities

All parts of an organization can support social and environmental sustainability. NBS resources can help you build sustainability into your organization’s daily operations, letting each function contribute in its own way. 

Organizational Culture

Organizational culture is a company’s DNA. NBS’s path-breaking project, Embedding Sustainability in Organizational Culture, identifies a portfolio of practices for making sustainability an everyday, enduring part of an organization. These practices allow you to foster commitment, clarify expectations, build momentum, and instill capacity. NBS research on decisions identifies complementary ways to reduce biases that can tilt employees away from sustainable choices.

Global Supply Chains

A company’s social and environmental impacts come not just from its own activities, but from its supply chain. Supply chains are full of both risks and opportunities. The risks range from inconsistent or poor quality to supply disruptions to health and safety concerns to corruption. NBS’s research on Managing Sustainable Global Supply Chains describes how companies can improve supply chain sustainability, at either a basic or more advanced level involving consultation, development, and learning.

Sustainability Reporting

As your organization seeks to communicate its performance externally, you’re likely to engage in sustainability reporting. Too often, companies treat sustainability reporting as an isolated activity: a one-time output produced by the sustainability department. NBS’s project on sustainability reporting recommends a more effective approach: making view sustainability reporting an ongoing process of learning and improvement, with implications for core company operations. 
 
As you quantify your firm’s impact, draw on NBS guidance on common approaches for measuring and valuing environmental impacts, such as the Ecological Footprint and Life Cycle Analysis. See our project on alternative fuels in cement manufacturing as a model for particularly rigorous analysis of different options. 
 
As with sustainability reporting, climate change adaptation is most effective when it enlists expertise from across the organization. Accountants can be particularly valuable contributors. Climate change is the most pressing issue facing business, according to the World Economic Forum. As a business issue, it can be addressed with financial tools. NBS shows how organizations can evaluate risk and find cost-effective solutions, and how accountants can guide the efforts

Additional Resources

Executive Report

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Navigate the decision-making process to manage environmental impacts like a pro.  Your Firm's Impacts, Measured and Managed in Four Steps Humans caused $6.6 trillion in environmental damage in 2008. NBS came across this and other important statist...

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This executive report summarizes key findings on the use of alternative fuels and substances in cement manufacturing.  Understanding the Impacts of Alternative Fuels in Energy-Intensive Cement Manufacturing The environmental, social, health, and e...

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Case Study

Accountants play a core role in climate change adaptation. They provide analysis to underpin key decisions, adding substance to sustainability discussions. Use Analytics to Adapt to Climate Change – and Better Serve Your Customers Sustainability h...

S. Jeff Birchall

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