BA 850
Sustainability Driven Innovation

Considering Resources

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Realities and Feasibility

 display of sunglasses
via Daniel Oines

Please allow me to be blunt: sustainability departments are not defined by being flush with resources or headcount (and even then, they may actually be a shared department, such as "sustainability and EHS").

To put it in perspective, Caterpillar, a $56 billion company, has three people in its sustainability area. In essence, each sustainability staffer at CAT is therefore responsible for the sustainability activity of 12 L.L. Bean's worth of revenue (quite literally, "a hill of Beans").

Make no mistake, there are very large and respected organizations in sustainability doing wonderful work with one or two dedicated staff (who, in turn, tap freelancers, consultants, partners, interns, or any passersby on the street wearing a Patagonia jacket who happens to make eye contact). More often than not, this pattern is a hallmark of sustainability as it exists in the organization: The best programs are many times decentralized and infused throughout the organization, and therefore, are quite lean in dedicated staff.

In some cases, the creation and execution of our sustainability-driven innovation may fall onto other functions, such as product development, marketing, HR, or other classically less constrained departments. But they, too, face the constraints of the organization, be they budgetary, attentional, or otherwise.

Although we may be experimenting and ideating and "playing in the white space," as some point, we must consider the realities of the organization if we are to select, create, and roll out our offering in the most effective manner. These realities may be considering the highest level competencies of the organization (as we saw in our last topic), or the most nuanced and personal constraints. In small organizations, a retirement or turnover in a core position may cause some level of reevaluation of strategy, as an initiative which was once feasible is now considerably less so.

Incorporating Both Broad and Narrow Views of Available Resources

We will go through the rigor of lensing and evaluating an opportunity according to capabilities, competencies, capacity, and constraints later in this Lesson, but, philosophically, the goal should be to place names (internal or external to the organization) next to those resources we will likely need to launch the Beta offering. If we are unable to resource a needed item internally or externally, it is not necessarily a red flag, but we must consciously consider the implications.

For example:

  • If you were to create a lean team that would allow the offering to go to Beta (with data and conviction), who specifically would you need?
  • What amount of time (in hours) would be required of each of those people?
  • What outside competencies or firms are needed?
  • Do you realistically have the budget to engage those firms for a Beta?
  • What constraints do you face, either in knowledge or capacity?
  • Are there hard skills (e.g., a certified engineer) that would be likely be required for Beta?

Remember, our goal is for our Beta to prove or disprove the viability of the offering, and create an extended list of assumptions to be tested... not to create the final product. You may find that a freelancer may fill the need for your internal copywriter, a prototype may fill in for the final product for photography, or that you can use a graduate student as opposed to a licensed engineer for initial calculations.

If Beta offerings are designed to be lean, and sustainability, as a practice, is perennially lean, you can imagine what a sustainability-driven beta could potentially face. So, for that reason, we need to have a realistic view of, quite literally, the amount of begging, borrowing, stealing, and cajoling we may need to do to bring the offering to beta.

Five word summary - Resources are nothing if unavailable