More Strategy Secrets of the Sustainability Masterminds
On Tuesday we had the sixth meeting of the Corporate Sustainability Mastermind Group (CoSM) – the small group of senior sustainability executives from large organisations which I facilitate on a quarterly basis.
We returned to a venue for the first time, the fantastic Undercroft at the Live Theatre, Newcastle. Most of this room is mediaeval, but those timbers in the background were recycled from Elizabethan ships, and it has functioned as everything from a prison to a wine cellar and, most recently, for exploring sustainability strategy in detail!
The Mastermind Group operates under the Chatham House Rule, so I can’t reveal who said what, or give the specific examples we were discussing, but here is a selection of the generic conclusions we reached:
- Business meets societal needs. No value => no profit and no profit => no value;
- Defining societal need in large companies can be difficult as they are often multi-faceted;
- Fundamental question: does growth => more harm? Depends on business model;
- Ethical dilemma – whose ethics are ethical? The definition may be out of your hands;
- Another ethical dilemma – where does responsibility end? Again, the definition may be out of your hands;
- Fundamentally need to do what’s right for your business;
- One effective tactic is to drive sustainability goals by piggybacking on other business goals;
- Need to decide on granularity of the strategy eg simple energy efficiency measures vs reconfiguring whole business;
- Sometimes you arrive at sustainability objectives from a different direction, but this is not a problem;
- Asset intensive industries typically use 5 year rolling planning cycle – too short for sustainability planning;
- Ten year stretch targets for sustainability are compatible with such a cycle;
- An alternative is to use iconic dates eg corporate centenaries – something for the organisation to rally around;
- People can obsess about the little stuff ,eg disposable coffee cups, and ignore the big picture;
- Emotions beat arguments, so show don’t tell – “facts” are never enough;
- ‘Behind the label’ – provide the detail for those who want to dive into it;
- Need to complete the whole product sustainability jigsaw;
- A full product life cycle assessment can be a real eye opener, however care must be taken with life cycle assumptions (eg use patterns, life span);
- Product stories are an increasingly effective way to market green performance;
- Independent substantiation of all claims is vital.
As always, the real benefit of the session lies in how we got to these generic points – and the examples of company specific challenges and shortcuts members threw in to the discussion.
The CoSM Group is for senior sustainability managers in large organisations. It meets quarterly in great locations for open and frank discussion – and NO Powerpoint. If you’d like to learn more, please drop me a line.