Making the Business Case for Sustainability

Only about 30 percent of firms have developed a clear business case for addressing sustainability-related issues, according to a new study by MIT Sloan Management Review and The Boston Consulting Group.  Ninety-two percent say they are trying to address the issue, but less than 45 percent said they are pursuing key initiatives such as reducing emissions, reducing the use of harmful chemicals, improving efficiency in packaging, or designing reusable or recyclable products.

Does all of this mean there is a significant gap between intent and action? Probably.

Are some organizations pursuing sustainability because they believe they have to and they’ll worry about the business case later? No doubt.

Do many organizations have a strong business case, but they just haven’t made it yet? Absolutely.

On the last point, borrowing from the 1967 movie Cool Hand Luke, I think “what we’ve got here is a failure to communicate.” I suspect that a significant number of the 1,500 corporate executives surveyed know there is a business case and they are already seeing benefits in terms of cost reduction, new business opportunities and goodwill. However, until they share it with their employees, customers, board of directors, shareholders and other key stakeholders, they haven’t “made the case” – and they’re missing out on the additional benefits that come with engagement.

For help in building the case and making the case, The Boston Consulting Group summary of the report contains a very useful “sustainability audit.” The detailed results of the study are available from MIT Sloan Management Review.

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