Whether I'm working with the board members of a FTSE100 company or be-overalled shop floor operatives, I usually start my workshops by asking why the business should be interested in sustainability? I then shut up and wait, flip chart marker in hand, for the first answer.
'Saving money' is usually up first, followed by 'legislation', 'customer demand' and 'keeping employees happy' in roughly that order. But my killer question is then "which is the most important?"
Getting the answer to that one right is essential to building a sustainability strategy. And the correct answer for most companies is 'customer demand' (or brand enhancement or marketplace differentiation) as companies who follow this approach tend to benefit from being more competitive and keeping employees happy and saving costs and avoiding compliance problems. Exclusively pursuing cost savings won't do much for the brand which in turn won't win you any new business or give your employees a warm feeling.
It is extremely important to get a crystal clear understanding of your specific business case for sustainability communicated to all your influential executives. If it is not nailed down, then, particularly in these straightened times, the cost cutting imperative will rise and the strategy will be degraded to a tactical plan that won't deliver the real benefits of being a more sustainable business. Vagueness is lethal to your strategy.
I made the short presentation on the business case for sustainability above two and half years ago and it is the most popular on the Terra Infirma YouTube channel by a country mile. If I was recording it now I would sneak a few more nuances in, but the core message remains the same - "Go Green Save Money is for Amateurs."