There is a tendency in many organizations to view sustainability as a pastime of sorts, sitting at the fringes of the business and functioning by itself. In the organizational body, sustainability is viewed as the appendix: nice to have, little tangible function or value, and easily removed.
In our time together, we have explored the role of sustainability as infused throughout the organization, and as representing meaningful opportunity for the organization on a myriad of different fronts. If we truly believe that sustainability represents significant opportunity, we should adopt the view that, like all of the other core operations of the organization, sustainability must perform and continue to improve. To do so, sustainability must be viewed as competition.
In broaching this topic in some groups, there is an instant and quite visible recoil from some members of the audience at the very thought of sustainability being competitive, as though the very act of bringing competition into the discussion hints at a corrupt and nefarious plan to actually make money for the organization. For shame, for shame.
Here is the rough logic trail we could propose:
The more value sustainability brings to the organization (whether financial value, brand value or otherwise), the more resources it will receive from the organization (be they access to other departments, budget, etc).
The more resources sustainability efforts receive, the more sustainable works they may undertake.
The more sustainable works undertaken, the more ultimate good they will do.
In seeing sustainability as a core function of the organization, it should be treated as such. Sustainability must be measured, goals must be set, and it should receive a level of metrics commensurate with any other function in the organization.
Just because we view sustainability with a competitive frame does not cheapen it or mean there are winners and losers... it simply signals that we want to do as much good with the program as possible. Sustainability is a competition with ourselves to become better, and to do so we know that we must track performance and take a competitive mindset.
Competencies, Advantages, and the Competitive Frame for Sustainability
As we have seen in understanding and creating sustainability-driven strategies, much of the effort depends on understanding the opportunity and fitting the need. We can think of understanding and leveraging organizational competencies as expressing yet another level of "fit" for a strategy.
For example, if we identified two potentially compelling strategic paths on a map, organizational fit and competencies would be the next filter we would apply. Imagine one of the paths relies heavily on engineering and new product development expertise, where the other relies on high-level marketing and the ability to message over time effectively to educate the market. The logical step would be to evaluate how those needs match the competencies of the organization and its partners, and to do so, we must take a competitive approach to how we can best execute on sustainability.
In this Lesson, we will move our innovation effort forward by gaining a precise view on how a specific organization may execute a strategy, and the resources potentially needed to do so. Where our work up to this point has been to understand the opportunity and create the strategy, we are now entering the feasibility and execution phase of our effort. In the real world, organizations do not all have the same levels of competency in the same skill sets, so as we seek to execute on our vision in the real world, we must consider organizational strengths, weaknesses, and other factors that can affect feasibility.
In executing sustainability-driven innovations, your organization will inexorably have advantages other organizations executing the same effort would not... this is not something to be lamented, it is the competitive frame that we must embrace if we desire do the most good possible in the most effective ways.