Establishing a new sustainability strategy at your company can come with plenty of baggage but what if you had the chance to do it all right…from the beginning.
- No long term relationships that are inconsistent with your sustainability strategy
- No long term contracts with non-aligned partners
- No inertia built into your operations and decision making
- No culture of fear for trying unproven strategies
- No track record with reliable supply chain partners
- No interference from a parent company
The opportunity to start from the beginning is usually reserved for small start-ups, but what if you had the chance to study an extremely large and complex initiative that had a well-defined beginning, middle and end. Imagine what it would be like to maneuver without all the baggage?
Business is built on relationships. Over years and even decades, casual business contacts can evolve into deep personal friendships that move well beyond the sphere of business and become firmly cemented in the personal realm. If your company suddenly embraces a more sustainable approach that is in conflict with a less sustainable supplier or partner, it can be very difficult to terminate that relationship.
2. Long Term Contracts
Many companies require contracts – a good example is waste handlers. When embarking on a more sustainable approach you might find yourself waiting it out before you can change a once seemingly benign aspect of your business. For example you might want to alter your purchasing strategy so that your waste stream is more recyclable or reusable but your current supplier isn’t set up to support the change. This scenario can delay and complicate your desire to move forward with your new strategy.
3. Inertia Built into Decision Making
Every company has a culture that develops over time. When things work they become engrained as “the way we do things around here.” But what happens when it’s time to change gears and the market demands that you move in a new direction? For many companies a culture of change is simply foreign to the decision making process. Trying new things and looking at problems in new ways may not be a skill that has been nurtured or developed. In fact, it might even be looked down upon by your colleagues and superiors. In this kind of culture, decisions are often made by looking backwards and seeing what worked in the past.
4. Culture of Fear
This picks up where #3 leaves off. Some companies are unfamiliar with looking at problems in new ways simply because they’re too afraid to make a mistake. They rarely take chances and in doing so they fail to cultivate any sort of progressive culture that questions the status quo and explores new ways of doing things. If this is the way your business operates you may find that denying the move towards a more sustainable economy feels more comfortable than embracing change and this does not bode well for your future.
5. Solid Supply Chain Partners
Some companies have worked with suppliers who have done excellent work filling large orders for years. A new and smaller supplier who has a more sustainable offering may be the sustainable choice but if they’re not able to satisfy your need for precision and certainty in your operations – you’ll likely stay with what you have. Those small start-ups that are building their strategy from scratch certainly won’t have to deal with this problem.
6. Parent Company
Many large corporations have operations in countries around the world. When the vision is unclear in the parent company or it contradicts the culture of the subsidiary country it can be frustrating and confusing. Some frustrations may include: reporting that focuses on the parent company and glosses over the work of individual countries, metrics that are not able to altered and that don’t work for particular countries operations and generally unclear or uninspiring messaging on sustainability. This is a tough one – I’d be curious to hear more from people who struggle with this challenge.
For most companies, some or all of these issues can complicate a strategy to become more sustainable. But rest assured you’re not alone. Now imagine what you can learn from a case study where the organization has the unique ability to establish its strategy with none of these legacy challenges. Sporting events like the Toronto 2015 Pan Am Games can provide that learning opportunity. Click to read our event summary from our recent event.
Brad Zarnett is the Founder and Director of the Toronto Sustainability Speaker Series (TSSS) which is widely recognized as Canada’s premier forum for dialogue and problem solving among sustainability professionals. Each year over 1000 sustainability change agents attend TSSS events to exchange ideas, network and be inspired by leading companies that have integrated sustainability into their business practices. You can follow Brad on twitter, LinkedIn or via the TSSS website