Initiating a Strategy of Sustainability

Building and growing a financially viable business and committing to environmental issues that are sustainable go hand in hand. Building a sustainable business is often described as:

  • What will your business look like in 25 years?
  • Can you envision that future?
  • What products or services will your company be known for or provide?
  • What will the face of your loyal customer base look like in 25 years?
  • Who will be successfully leading the organization?

Many small to mid-sized organizations are used to planning and thinking about their business two to five years out, but most have never thought about planning for 25 years into the future or creating a financially sustainable business that will be there to effectively serve future customers. A truly sustainable business that supports employees, stakeholders, and customers long-term, thinks far beyond the obvious.

In order to have the ability to think about building a sustainable business we need to start changing our attitude about how we handle and protect environmental resources, so there is something to build on 25 years from now. “We need to meet the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs” (Our Common Force – The Brundtland Commission).

There are three key components to creating and building a financially sustainable and environmentally sound organization. There needs to be a strategic commitment and clear vision communicated by senior leadership of the organization. Employees need to understand and believe in the vision in order to develop the attitudes and behaviors necessary to implement the new strategy, and all of the organization’s processes that move horizontally through the organization need to be aligned with the outcomes of the overall strategy.

How do you start? At first blush, the process may seem overwhelming but it really isn’t. There is, in fact, a systematic approach that can help your company move through the five levels. Each creates the next layer of a transformative sustainability model.

Some of the first steps include:

  • Conduct a Sustainability Assessment. It does not make sense to guess or assume where your organization stands in its sustainability initiatives. Conduct a valid assessment and based on the collected data, establish the necessary action steps to help your organization get to the next level.
  • Conduct Stakeholder Research. Take the time to learn what your stakeholders are concerned about, and what they expect today and in the future from your product or service. Give them an opportunity to voice their opinions, ideas and concerns. Your stakeholders are not just your customers. Your vendors, your community, and anyone else your company or products and services touch should also be considered stakeholders.
  • Take your existing strategic plan and work through it to see how a strategy of business/financial and environmental sustainability overlays with your current plan. What changes need to be made? What assumptions need to be challenged and how do your people need to be further engaged? How will you incorporate a systems thinking approach in all of your processes?

Being successful today and being successful five years from now is very different than being a sustainable company in 25 years. Dealing with the critical success factors in the short-term is mandatory. Deciding to plan a sustainable future presents exciting business opportunities!

Tammy A.S. Kohl is President of Resource Associates Corporation. For over 30 years, RAC, through their Institute for Sustainability, has specialized in helping businesses define and implement a common sense approach to sustainability while achieving high levels of excellence and results. Learn how at or contact RAC directly at 800.799.6227.

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