What sustainability means to your company – Part 3

This is the final post of Josh’s 3 part blog series on What sustainability means to your company. View Part 1 & Part 2.

How to use green to your advantage

Is it possible to do the “right thing” for the environment without regard to the bottom line?  Not in the business world – the right thing in business is ultimately defined by serving your shareholders, so the bottom line is an integral part of the corporate decision tree.  Does that mean all hope is lost for the planet and its inhabitants? Not at all.

In fact, the sacred bond between profits and business can drive us toward more sustainable practices, as long as there is a link between these practices and more profitable outcomes.

During the latest Dell Community Advisory Panel (CAP) which focused on sustainability, every discussion eventually came back to establishing ROI.  Let’s explore how that is possible.

Do customers care about green?  Will you win business with green?

A couple of observations from Dell’s experience:

  1. People are becoming more aware of sustainability: 70% of the RFPs Dell receives now include a sustainability component.
  2. People are not yet making final decisions based on sustainability: That sustainability component is rarely a tie-breaker.

The writing is on the wall.  If you are making a product and not providing your environmental message, people are going to make one up for you.  While it might not be the deciding factor now, sustainability has a huge potential to become one – and it takes quite a bit of time to strategy from scratch.

If your company is ahead of the game . . .

Make sure your customers know that you are doing this work on their behalf.  Grab the leadership position before the race heats up.  Once you are secure in your abilities, increase awareness.  One suggestion for Dell was to put our ingredients right on the box of each system.

If you are not sure of your company’s position . . .

You have time to act, and you probably have lots of easy improvements in your processes just waiting to be discovered.  Put incentives in place for change from the bottom, but don’t forget realigning at the top.

How to set goals to drive change, even if you are lacking a strategy

A great question was posed to a Dell exec: “How do you set your sustainability improvement goals for the year?”  At Dell, we have some baseline data in place and are moving towards incremental improvement in many areas.  But apparently some other companies know they need to drive change but lack a strategy.  In this case, they set a goal that required change and then empowered employees to make the change happen.

Benchmarking the competition is tough at the moment

If your industry is not using green as a competitive advantage yet, it might be hard to tell where you stack up to the competition.  Why not lead the way with an initiative like the Green Transition Scoreboard?  By partnering with an outside agency to set the bar, you can make sure that you have covered every aspect of the conversation, that your strategy is sound and that you know where you will rank before you go public.

Remember that sustainability is bigger than you

The next frontier in green will yield huge opportunities for you to become a ferocious competitor if you implement sustainability with an eye on productivity rather than damage control.  For example, if you are sourcing material from farmers in emerging countries, you can invest in their resources, skillsets and communities, and that in-turn will result in more capable farmers.

This is a symbiotic relationship rather than an adversarial one.

Wrapping up

The Dell CAP for sustainability was enlightening.  I can’t wait to go discuss these strategies with some clients to see how they can put it to use in their own businesses.  Whether they are a healthcare provider reaching impoverished areas of India with a new thin client based product, an industrial control system provider that monitors synthetic insulin production, or a smart metering company based off of Dell’s cloud offering, Dell’s OEM customers are putting Dell’s hard work to good use in ways that help communities around the world.

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About the Author: Josh Neland