One of the most frequent questions that I get when I talk to people about my job as a sustainability consultant is this: How can I convince [my boss, my company, my crazy aunt, etc.] that sustainability makes good business sense?
There is an overwhelming amount of evidence that sustainability can drive innovation, save money, improve employee morale, and create competitive advantage. There are oodles of reports, case studies, and company executives proclaiming from the rooftop that sustainability is good for business.
Now, there are a lot of ideas about how to most effectively make the business case for sustainability and why businesses should care. I won’t go into them here. What I want to talk about is why I’ve stopped making the business case.
Yup. I refuse to do it. Here’s why:
It doesn’t work.
Unless you’ve been hiding in under a rock, you can’t have escaped all the press around sustainability success stories. That means when you draw me into a conversation about the business case for sustainability, you probably have an agenda. You want to argue, or debate politics, or just want to be disagreeable.
If you are a sustainability skeptic, chances are there is absolutely no way to convince you that sustainability makes good business sense. In fact, the more evidence I put in front of you, the more you will resist the truth. (This is a brilliant link. Go read it. I’ll wait.)
Frankly, I have enough frustration in my life without engaging in pointless debate. Let me instead politely refer you to any of the hundreds of excellent resources and be on my way.
OK, I can admit that my position may be a little harsh. Certainly not EVERYONE who asks me about the business case is intentionally being an ass. There is occasionally the honest and open-minded inquiry about whether there is a solid business case for an organization’s pursuit of sustainability.
In cases like this, do I change my tune? Instead of booting this person to the curb, do I have a refreshing discussion in which we both walk away better people?
No, I do not.
You see, it’s a waste of my time.
First, there are more than a dozen places I can point you that will do a much more eloquent job of explaining the business case for sustainability than I can. These resources have references, footnotes, and quotations from business icons that will do more to inspire you than anything I can come up with on the spot.
Second, every minute that I spend convincing you that sustainability is something you should take seriously is a minute that I can’t spend helping someone actually figure out how to implement sustainability into their business.
I like to tell people that I work on the how of sustainability, not the why. If you need the why, do a quick search on Google. Read any of Bob Willard’s books. Take an Intro to Sustainability class at your local university. It’s not rocket science, I promise.
What’s more challenging, and therefore more interesting to me, is how to take the broad benefits of sustainability and apply them directly to your organization. That’s where my skills and experience come into play—that’s how I want to spend my time.
I’m not saying that we should forget about the business case for sustainability. I just wish that sustainability experts would just skip ahead to the good stuff. By continually spending time rehashing the same fundamental basics, we are hobbling ourselves.
It’s the same problem as explaining and re-explaining the evidence for man-made climate change (which I’ve written about before). It’s a waste of time—at some point we need to push the doubters to the side and just get on with the business of climate change adaptation and mitigation.
Can we all just agree that—when it comes to the business case for sustainability—the evidence has been presented, a judgment has been rendered, and we can all move on with our lives? There is too much work on our plates to get stalled now.
Jennifer Woofter is the founder and president of Strategic Sustainability Consulting, a boutique firm specializing in helping rapidly growing mid-size businesses integrate sustainability into their business model. She tweets at @jenniferwoofter.