Sustainable Business Strategies in a Recession

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Sustainable Business Maybe the title should instead read “How to Fail at ‘Greening’ Your Business”. Often times companies seem to approach “green” or eco-friendly as just another product attribute that can simply be added to packaging or website to reach the “green” consumer segment. In the rush to be eco-friendly, and due to the typical structure of many organizations, the marketing team will take the lead of the greening effort and, in the interest of time & energy, they’ll create a brilliant plan to communicate “green” to a target consumer group, but no internal alignment.

The sustainability and marketing strategies of a typical entrepreneur are often times based on the same model – the shotgun approach. Typically, entrepreneurs start to think about marketing after at least 6 months of hitting the pavement, and then sustainability appears as part of a new “marketing plan” or is seen as some kind of charitable giving / community relations campaign. Sustainable business is neither part of a marketing campaign nor a community relations effort. Neither is it about shifting revenue, but rather how revenue is generated.

One of the most important things to realize about taking your business green is that, just like anything else, dragging your feet to “go green” because everyone else is and your boss wants to know your “green strategy” by the end of the week, will most assuredly result in an expensive, frustrating failure.

Michael Porter, the same fellow from Harvard that gave us the 5 Forces model, wrote a must-read article on the topic of integrating Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR), in this case – being eco-responsible – into the operations of a business. Of this likelihood for failure he wrote –

“The fact is, the prevailing approaches to CSR are so fragmented and so disconnected from business and strategy as to obscure many of the greatest opportunities for companies to benefit society. If, instead, corporations were to analyze their prospects for social responsibility using the same frameworks that guide their core business choices, they would discover that CSR can be much more than a cost, a constraint, or a charitable deed – it can be a source of opportunity, innovation, and competitive advantage.”

Developing a sustainable business invites key players across the unique value chain of your business to identify opportunities to operate your business in a way that identifies, eliminates or innovates, and measures your use of natural resources. With key players from all stages of your value chain you identify opportunities to minimize your impact on the environment, prioritize them, and delineate a strategy to execute the plan. Without a holistic view of the value chain of your business, you will miss out on opportunities to innovate, find cost-savings, and reduce your impact.

Probably one of the best reports published this year on Sustainable Business Operations –

Pew Center on Global Climate Change; Getting Ahead of the Curve: Corporate Strategies that Address Climate Change