Perspectives on greener product development and manufacturing from Sustainable Minds, our partners, customers and contributors.

Building A Sustainable Company — Part I

By Vijay Kanal on April 20, 2010

Clients who are new to building sustainability in their organizations often ask what their first steps should be. Recognizing that every company has a different set of business goals, hierarchy and culture, we recommend a valuable first step: start by measuring all things related to carbon emission, energy and resource consumption, and waste.

Even if it's not a precise measurement, a quantified approximation will establish a baseline against which all of your future efforts can be compared. Then, we recommend that you look across your industry and even beyond, to see what leading companies have achieved in lowering their environmental footprint. Based on this external benchmarking, you can begin to set goals and prioritize your own sustainability initiatives.

This prioritization must include input from, and assessment of the impact on different stakeholders, including customers, employees and investors. Draw up a Materiality Matrix that shows the relationship between impact on stakeholders and the impact on the company. This matrix can form the basis of setting the company’s strategy on sustainability.

Identify a cross-functional steering committee, with executive sponsorship, to set the goals and strategies, and to assign responsibility and accountability. Establish a viable reporting schedule so that internal and external stakeholders can see what progress is being made against the goals your steering committee sets.

Successful companies have realized that sustainability is a key element of strategy, and are profiting from it. Our focus at Kanal Consulting is to help our clients identify opportunities and execute on them to grow sustainably. From our work with leading companies, we have seen that when sustainability is tightly integrated with the business, it is possible to achieve financial success and a reduced environmental footprint.

In my next posting, I’ll take a closer look at some of the important frameworks companies should include in a rigorous approach to sustainability. Those frameworks include opportunity assessment, strategies and goals, funding, product management and marketing, operations, governance, metrics, communications, and understanding stakeholders.