The real drivers and benefits for sustainable change.

IN THE last couple of weeks I have written about the current state of play as I see it in waste and recycling and the broader topic of sustainability in businesses.

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The underlying theme being that have made great progress in both but we should accept that a lot of this was in areas that were most obviously in need of change and had fairly uniformly available solutions and practices to address them. That is not to say that there are no trailblazers out there that are showing us just what can be done; I am talking in general terms.


It is going to get harder to continue to make the advancements that it is generally accepted we need to make. So the question should be asked “Why are businesses going to invest the effort and resources to do this”. The power of good conscience after all only goes so far, and has proven pretty limited influencer for business behavior over the years.


Perhaps we should first look at what the drivers have been to date and ask if these will persist and be great enough to see the extra efforts invested.


Whilst doing the ‘right thing’ has definitely been part of the agenda it has certainly not been the only one, and in my experience far from the most influential factor. Unsurprisingly top of the list by a country mile comes cost.


Other significant drivers of sustainable change so far include:


  • Legislation and taxation
  • Recognition
  • Competitors activities
  • Marketability and promotion
  • Stakeholder expectation
  • Risk of bad press for poorly viewed practices.


Not all of these apply to all businesses but they are the most common in my experience, and you could be forgiven for concluding that it is a pretty cynical list. It’s generally reactive to external forces rather than a desire to champion best sustainable behavior.


George Bernard Shaw once said “Virtue is insufficient temptation”. Gary Hirshberg, CEO of Stonyfield Farms (one of the best sustainable business success stories to date) put this nicely into a business context, “Only when the solutions to our environmental problems are accompanied by profitable, commercial strategies for enacting them will the business world get on board”. And that comes from the pen of one of the leaders in sustainable thinking and practice.


I don’t expect and of the above drivers to disappear, they will all remain valid for a long time yet. I think it is more likely that the trailblazers will show new ways of gaining competitive advantage as they create the profitable commercial strategies for improving sustainability as referred to by Mr. Hirshberg. The more enlightened watchers will adopt these lessons until others are left behind with business models that are no longer able to sustain in the changing competitive market place.


As well as the efforts involved in making changes increasing significantly, so the potential rewards will increase by an equally great factor. Just as likely, the cost of not making changes will be greater as competitors leave others behind.


I hope we look back on the period we are about to embark on and see the time businesses implemented fundamental changes that put sustainable values at the core of strategies (not the bolt on that is often is currently) and found it made them more profitable as a whole.


This might sound extremely positive and hopeful but look at it this way. A lot of sustainability is about using less more efficiently and engaging with your market effectively. When I was studying business many moons ago at university that was in our text books; but it didn’t appear under sustainability, they were fundamental principles of business… and still are.


The schedule of Waste-Works Live at the end of the month will hear from a host of people who are involved in developing models with greater sustainable credentials that are improving their businesses performance in all sorts of ways. I am looking forward to chairing some of these sessions are learning what is being achieved right now.


Giles Whiteley is Managing Director of Orbisa and is assisting the curation of Waste-Works Live that runs from 22nd to 25th March alongside IFE 2015 at ExCeL.


To find out more and to register for free, visit:

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