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Gail Nickel-Kailing, managing director of Business Strategies Etc.

Shades of Green

By Gail Nickel-Kailing

About Gail

A business adviser and problem solver, Gail is managing director of Business Strategies Etc., which provides strategic marketing and business planning services and manages the execution of marketing communications tactics that help companies:
• Define their sustainability strategies,
• Deliver a positive, sustainable image,
• Gain credibility, trust and respect, and
• Measure the results of their green initiatives and actions.

Gail is a nationally recognized speaker on a wide range of subjects and brings enthusiasm and a unique blend of experience to the podium. As an industry analyst and journalist contributing to publications in the United States, Canada, India and Brazil, she has covered a number of beats, particularly sustainability in printing and mailing, print on demand, variable data printing and direct mail.

Creating Sustainable Value in Your Company

A recent publication by Accenture—“Business at Its Best: Driving Sustainable Value Creation” (pdf)—provides advice and direction for companies looking for new ways to grow and reach high performance. Full of good information and available free, a brief synopsis of the publication follows.

What IS Sustainable Value Creation?

Sustainable Value Creation is a core business strategy focused on addressing fundamental societal issues by identifying new, scalable sources of competitive advantage that generate measurable profit and community benefit.
  • Core business strategy: one that addresses a threat or opportunity faced by the company that is critical to its long-term success.
  • Fundamental societal issues: things such as illiteracy, poverty, hunger or access to social services. Minimizing production waste, fostering employee wellness and lightening the social burden caused by a company’s product portfolio are not fundamental societal issues; they are inward focused, rather than outward focused.
  • New and scalable sources: ideas and solutions that are innovative and creative, considering previously unrecognized possibilities, and that can be replicated and scaled across the company to deliver whole-business impacts.
  • Competitive advantage: access to new or previously underserved markets, higher market capitalization, reduced costs, increased revenues and/or greater value of intangible assets.
  • Measurable: generates a quantifiable positive impact on both the business and on fundamental societal issues. There needs to be an accurate and timely assessment of ROI to justify the investment and resources expended.

Successful companies are good at generating profitable ideas, yet they often overlook business opportunities that can be found within fundamental societal issues. It is in the root causes of those issues that new competitive advantages may be found.

Executives who rethink products, services and community development efforts can identify benefits to society and to their businesses. While exploring opportunities, keep in mind that not every corporate obstacle or strategic issue is linked to a fundamental societal problem. A solution may only be found in philanthropy for some issues.

As a function of Sustainable Value Creation, there needs to be a profit margin throughout the strategy—it is, at the core, an economic- and business-driven decision and can be a source of competitive advantage.

How do you find the convergence point between business strategy and fundamental societal issues?

Finding the convergence point between your business strategy and society’s issues begins with trend analysis. Ideas can also come from regulatory changes and the media, both business and general publications. For example, climate change could be a strategic commercial issue for your company.

Once you and your team have identified opportunities, narrow the list into those that are:
  • Clearly a broad need,
  • Unique,
  • Linked to your company’s strategic direction, and
  • Addressable by your core competencies.

The nature of cause-and-effect issues related to need is complex; map these interconnected links and complexities early in the planning process.

Next Steps: Research, Develop, Repeat

The process of strategy development should be approached like an R&D project. It will be iterative, real-time and public. To minimize the possibility of failure and unintended consequences, develop a deep understanding of the populations and communities that will be affected. Solutions must be matched to local wants and needs.

Once  you’ve succeeded with a pilot project, you’ll want to scale your efforts across the company. But, like managing any other strategic change, a little corporate “rewiring” is necessary.

Now is the time to embed new structures, communications, incentives and metrics across your organization to sustain the new behaviors. Rewards, incentives and governance are where your new strategy will succeed or fail.

Communication with Internal and External Stakeholders

Communicate with your employees regularly, reporting on progress and sharing proof of success. Keep consumers and customers on board by informing them of your actions, operations and the social impact.

Educate your investors and shareholders to embrace a long time horizon for returns with Sustainable Value Creation. Reinforce the value of these strategies; it is not a time to focus purely on quarterly returns or high ROI projects.

While it may seem easier to go it alone, you’ll be more successful by collaborating or partnering with a wide range of organizations—including your competitors—while maintaining your competitive advantage.

Suggested Reading

“Q&A: Roundtable on Shared Value,” Stanford Social Innovation Review, John Kania & Mark R. Kramer (2011)

“Vision 2050: The New Agenda for Business,” World Business Council for Sustainable Development (2010)

“Creating Shared Value: A How-to Guide for the New Corporate (R)evolution,” Valerie Bockstette & Mike Stamp (2011)

“Creating Shared Value: How to Reinvent Capitalism and Unleash a Wave of Innovation and Growth,” Harvard Business Review, Michael E. Porter & Mark R. Kramer (2011)

“New Era of Sustainability,” Accenture and the United Nations Global Compact (2010)

“Shaping the Future: Solving Social Problems Through Business Strategy,” Committee Encouraging Corporate Philanthropy, based on research by McKinsey & Co. (2010)

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