Sustainability and Reinvention

Sustainability & Innovation

Sustainability as a Tool for Reinvention

By Peter Mortensen via Jump

How to drive business growth by integrating sustainability and innovation.
The relationship between business and the environment has transformed over the last decade. Once a burdensome cost of doing business, a mandate for sustainability is now widely viewed as a tool for finding new cost savings for business and consumers. For some companies, it’s even become a marketing differentiator. For the very first time, the majority of companies are viewing sustainability as a critical mandate for success.
Unfortunately, almost everyone is missing the big picture. Far from being a mere marketing tool or framework for business efficiency, sustainability has the potential to be a key driver of innovation and growth in virtually every industry and sector. At Jump, we call this idea Natural Reinvention. It’s an approach to achieving sustainable growth that’s firmly grounded in empathy for people and their changing needs – both within organizations and out in the world. It’s a way of keeping a business relevant to customers and stakeholders through ongoing evolution instead of periodic, massive upheavals. And it’s an avenue toward building employee loyalty and a culture that embraces continuous change.
Natural Reinvention isn’t complicated, but that doesn’t make it easy. There are a few core ideas that make it work. Companies engaged in Natural Reinvention:
• Get out into the real world to understand people’s changing values
• Dig deep into their own assets, capabilities and passions to discover their strengths
• Connect the dots to create sustainable growth strategies and a culture of creative renewal

Get outside to understand people’s changing values

Right now, in ways big and small, the world outside the walls of your business is changing. Some of those changes won’t affect your company in the slightest. Some might change the landscape to your advantage. And some might threaten to destroy your business. Especially in a period of economic upheaval, people are re-examining their values, their lifestyles, and how they choose to spend their money. After decades of over-consumption, people are thinking seriously about how to live the life they want – without buying a whole lot of stuff, using a lot of energy, or producing excess waste. For companies that thrive on driving volume, these changes appear threatening – and demand change.

The good news is that if you can understand how people’s values are changing, you can change your business to meet their emerging needs in ways that are sustainable for your business and the planet. To do that, put down the surveys and cancel the focus groups. Get everyone in your organization out in the world, talking with real people as they go about their lives. Don’t try to educate them about the value of sustainable products and services – many people already see their benefits. Focus on meeting them where they already are, understanding their challenges and helping them live the kind of life they want to lead. Besides revealing what people value, an empathy-driven approach to sustainability can show what people consider nonessential, too.
Consider the Boston-based car-sharing service ZipCar. The founders of the young company realized a decade ago that many people, especially in large cities, were fed up with car ownership. They hated traffic. They didn’t like the maintenance. They spent more time looking for parking than they did on the road. And they felt like owning a car made them part of the problem. The founders of ZipCar realized that there was considerable money to be made in giving people access to cars when they needed them without the hassle of ownership. They had encountered car-sharing clubs in Europe, and they realized that a commercial version of the same idea was poised for success in the U.S. The service, now available in 52 American cities and serving more than 300,000 members, allows people to walk up to cars in their neighborhood, swipe a wireless card across the windshield, and then start driving for as cheaply as $10 an hour – including gas and insurance. Though ZipCar and similar services grew slowly at first, recent years have seen its growth accelerate at a time when the car industry has struggled. The success of Zipcar shows that while most Americans aren’t ready or able to give up driving, plenty of them are willing to give up car ownership.
Dig deep into assets, capabilities and passions to find new opportunities

Pursuring sustainability is not merely a technical challenge for companies. It’s a cultural one. An appeal to help a business go green can sound like an attack on the old way of doing things – and even on the people who make them. No one responds well to being told that the products they have made for years are harmful to the world. In order to help your organization make the changes needed to drive Natural Reinvention, it’s far more effective to do as Theodore Leavitt advised so many years ago in his classic HBR article “Marketing Myopia” and rediscover what business you’re really in – and which ones you could be in down the road. That way, you can reconnect to the strengths of your organization – and see how to apply your existing assets and capabilities in new, sustainable ways in the process. This allows sustainability to make impacts in the core of your business – and inspire your people along the way. People are always more interested in changing when it involves doing more of what they’re good at and enjoy. And since such an approach builds on the strengths the company already has, change happens in natural evolutions rather than radical upheavals.

As the company that made bleach a household name, Clorox for decades has been a criticized by green activists who claimed that chlorine was harmful to both people and the planet. So it was quite a shock when Clorox announced in late 2007 that it was launching a full line of products made entirely from natural ingredients that met the Sierra Club’s seal of approval. How was this possible? Well, Clorox first took a good, hard look at what it truly does well as it formulated an environmental strategy. And what Clorox does well is get stuff clean – they make the power tools of home care. So its innovation organization set out to create new green cleaning products that were great for cleaning. Rather than try to market this new product line as the most environmentally friendly products possible, Clorox argued that it had created the most effective green cleaners on the planet. The new offerings, dubbed Green Works by Clorox, were an instant success, grossing $40 million in sales in year one and claiming leadership in every single green cleaning category it covered. More impressively, it drove overall category growth; existing green players like Method and Seventh Generation saw major gains even as Clorox became the dominant power in the market. By leveraging its considerable brand equity in cleaning efficacy, Clorox lifted the entire green cleaning industry to previously unseen heights.
Reframe the challenge and connect the dots to thrive in the long term

Sustainability is often framed as a way for companies to do less bad: consume fewer resources, emit fewer greenhouse gases and other pollutants, reduce packaging and shipping weights. And while all of those factors are of critical importance, they are ultimately the very least that businesses can do to prepare for the next economy. Worse, they can become the focus of sustainability efforts at the expense of more meaningful changes. The success of such efforts is also incredibly hard to measure, and many organizations can get mired in debates about which metrics of sustainability performance are most important. Setting goals and ensuring accountability are good, but only when tied to a larger strategic vision for sustainability.

The answer is to stop worrying about the problems companies usually associate with sustainability – namely, improving the brand image and educating the public on the value of green efforts – and reframe the problem to focus on innovation and growth. The promise of sustainability is a company fueled by creative renewal, consistently embracing change, energizing employees and routinely innovating. Doing that is about connecting people’s emerging needs in the world to your unique assets, capabilities, and strengths. So go ahead and track your progress, but don’t lose sight of your real opportunity to reinvent your business in a way that’s authentic, inspiring, and set up to thrive for decades to come.
In 1994, Ray Anderson, founder of the tile-based carpeting company Interface, had an epiphany. Though the organization he had built into a powerhouse was an innovator, its success was tenuous – and constructed on the back of a volume of waste almost beyond belief. To manufacture, ship, and dispose of his product, his company was burning through petroleum at a rate that flat-out made him feel dirty. So he changed things. First, he got his employees to eliminate waste and promote a more efficient process for development. This included everything from engineering production systems that used just 7 percent of the energy of previous solutions to capturing the methane gas off of landfills near his factories to provide power. The company tore up the playbook and repurposed, reinvented and reinvigorated. Today Interface even makes a product line, Entropy, that cannot have defects and can be replaced on a tile-by-tile basis without noticeable differences in color or wear. The company even makes a carpet that doesn’t require glue to install. And as it developed its sustainability expertise, Interface has become a leading consultancy for helping other companies go green. By constantly connecting the dots between its capabilities and the emerging needs of real people, Interface has transformed from a major polluter to an organization on the leading edge of what’s possible in sustainable business.
Get started now to reinvent yourself tomorrow and ever after

Meeting the challenge of sustainability isn’t a burdensome obligation– it’s a golden opportunity to reinvent business and drive positive change. Organizations that embark on a process of Natural Reinvention today will transform the core business over the long term, even as they launch successful new green products and services in the short term. Every organization’s challenges are different, and many of the needed technical solutions haven’t been fully developed. That’s all the more reason to get started now. By meeting people where they are, freeing up resources for green innovation, playing to their strengths and building cultures of creative renewal, companies can chart a course to sustainable growth while solving the world’s biggest problems.

Peter Mortensen
via Jump

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