The face of sustainability is changing.
Having long been pushed low on the priority list for many organizations, embracing sustainability is fast becoming a strategic imperative rather than an operational choice.
There are still plenty of management teams that are hesitant to consider and implement sustainability practices. But they should realize the potential risk of failing to consider environmental factors and the strategic need to incorporate the changing environment in their decision-making processes.
So, how can organizations promote strategic sustainability?
The ability of a manager to detect, prepare for and take advantage of coming changes on behalf of an organization is critical. From the disruption of new technology and population growth to the impact of climate change, resource constraints and new business models, sustainability is a wicked challenge. Organizations must connect with their internal and external environment to align with industry norms and respond to consumer demands.
Sustainability is no longer limited to sorting out and recycling from rubbish for improving efficiency; it’s about being strategic. Organizations need to consider all levels of their business and they must reconceptualize sustainability as a means to transform. They must not only meet the needs of society and the environment but also create a sustainable competitive advantage. Brisbane Airport Corporation recently incorporated potential climate change impacts in their new runway design by accounting for rising sea levels. They are also collaborating with the University of Queensland, Virgin and Queensland State Development in preparation for aviation fuel price rises resulting from carbon pricing, to establish a biofuels’ market.
Opportunities for innovation can be found across an organization, in different ways and at multiple levels. The entire life of a product should be considered as a “cycle”— from the resources used and production processes adopted, to the operation of the finished product, its lifespan as well as disposal options. Designing for longevity or remanufacturing should be considered, which has implications for new business models. To reach a target of 100 percent utilization of its extracted sandstone resource, Queensland company Rock Trade innovated the product design, process and system levels to bring new products to market. They developed new products from 100 percent of their resources, up from a previous level of 20 percent.
Culture and strategy need to be married together to promote sustainable change. Having the key corporate team onboard is critical and is later supported by visible commitments led by internal “champions” from small scale investments in recycling and efficiency investments to wellbeing programs and reporting that helps in shaping the company for more strategic changes.
The future is always uncertain, but when the implications of climate change are combined with the pressure of increasing populations and urbanization, organizations must expect the unexpected. Businesses need to adopt a structured approach to consider what the future may hold by incorporating tools such as scenario planning.
Social, environmental and regulatory pressures are combining to influence organizational decision making. It’s time to recognize that sustainability is not just a pretty facade. When incorporated into strategic planning, sustainability offers potential value for an organization’s competitive future.
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