THE BLOG

Overcoming Sustainability Challenges Requires Determination

02/21/2013 04:27 pm ET | Updated Apr 23, 2013
  • John Friedman Helping organizations live their values and engage in authentic conversations

When any company or organization demonstrates its commitment to running its business in a manner that (1) benefits society (2) improves (or at least mitigates negative impacts on) the environment and is able to do so in a way that is (3) profitable, it lives the values of sustainability and, in theory, creates a virtuous cycle in that benefits individuals, communities, countries and the entire planet.

That is a lofty goal and, of course, is far easier said than done. For many organizations the challenges can seem overwhelming. In those cases, and at those times, it is critical that they recognize that end. The concept of 'social license to operate' promises that the investment of time, talent and treasure pays off as they become the preferred provider, a favored employer and the good neighbor that faces less regulation and review by earning public, community and regulatory trust

While smaller organizations may have it easier in terms of getting buy-in and ensuring that practices support the desired objectives -- they also struggle for financial resources necessary. Conversely, larger multi-national organizations may (but not always) have more financial means but face the daunting task of engaging a larger, decentralized work forces and a more complex supply chain. In either case the power of the marketplace -- will customers embrace the products or services -- is a universal reality.

No matter how big a company is, it must remember that it is really the combination of a myriad of small companies -- local organizations that employ people from the community, and have a direct impact on the economic, environmental and social health of the communities in which it operates -- whether it is one store in one town, or literally thousands of operations spread across the globe. Employees are multiple stakeholders; they are also suppliers (of labor/productivity, quality and safety), consumers of goods and members of the community including opinion leaders.

Regardless of size, the most successful companies, I have found, will commit fully to sustainability and work through the challenges when their efforts are based not on short-term market trends or a desire to 'look good' but rather based on the core and foundational values that have served them well for years. Focusing their efforts forward with a firm reliance and by invoking their founder's vision is often necessary to build the enthusiasm and determination to overcome the hurdles and obstacles that come up in the course of doing business. 'Stay the course, because this is who we are' is a stronger rallying cry than 'this is the new way and we told you it would be rough.' Employees who know that these values are absolutes also are more likely to buy in and not simply wait for the 'next trend' to come along.

So, in a world where both small and large organizations each recognize the advantages the others have, they would do well to remember that no matter the size of the organization what really matters is that their determination to be a responsible corporate citizen overcomes the difficulties in putting processes, programs and measurement tools in place to ensure that they are living their values.

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