The Weekender: the comprehensive business case for sustainability
The Weekender features a longer form publication or multimedia production from a reputable source. We select articles or things to watch or listen to that discuss issues and opportunities we deem just off the radar for many business people, students, and faculty. We aim to expand the mind, broaden the heart, and sharpen the analysis. Have a great weekend.
Ray Anderson, the late CEO of Interface Carpet, once was asked about the "business case for sustainability." Since the 1990's, Anderson had taken his company through a massive mid-course correction and set "mission zero" goal to be off petroleum by 2020 and then become the world's first restorative company: giving back more than it takes from the world. I got to meet Ray before he passed away. He spoke like a banker, thought like an engineer but had the heart of a poet. Many talk about "sustainability" these days but he was one of the originals do-ers of creating a company the world could be proud of.
In response, Anderson said, "What's the business case for destroying the planet?" Which is to say, what exactly is the business case for our current take-make-waste approach to production and consumption?
Of course, we do need to develop an understanding of how sustainability helps to meet or exceed business objectives. Interface has cut energy use in half, water use by 88% and waste to landfill is down 91%. This all goes to the bottom line. But the business case is not just, as you'll read below, about saving money. And it's not just about "saving the planet" either.
"Today’s executives are dealing with a complex and unprecedented brew of social, environmental, market, and technological trends. These require sophisticated, sustainability-based management. Yet executives are often reluctant to place sustainability core to their company’s business strategy in the mistaken belief that the costs outweigh the benefits. On the contrary, academic research and business experience point to quite the opposite.
Embedded sustainability efforts clearly result in a positive impact on business performance. Drawing from our own research and our colleagues’ research in this area, we have created a sustainability business case for the 21st century corporate executive. Hoping to alleviate their concerns, this article also provides concrete examples of how sustainability benefits the bottom line."