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GreenBiz 2018: Kick start your sustainability journey with 6 take-to-heart facts

GreenBiz 2018 just wrapped up in beautiful Phoenix, Arizona and as usual, this conference on bringing business and environmental and social responsibility together was full of a mind-blowing array of ways to make a difference. There’s so much momentum to ride within the sustainability community, and companies large and small are seeing that operating sustainably is not just good global citizenship, it’s good business. 

Even so, it may still feel like there’s a secret handshake and completely new language to learn to speak. Acronym salads abound and the passion can be almost intimidating! So how does a business leader decide to take the plunge and put a hard-won reputation on the line to make sustainability a priority? It’s a deep breath moment to commit to answering why now, how much, and who cares. So what do you need to know to get started? Here are six facts to give you a boost:

1. You are not alone!

Sustainability leaders are pioneers by definition at some level, but the sustainability community has breadth, depth and history. For every industry segment, there’s a coalition, association, or group of like-mindeds to work with. Sustainability is about collaboration, since no one can really do it alone anyway! From packaging to apparel to food to data centers, there’s a community to join to partner, mentor, and take advantage of others’ experience. Investors, board advisors, policy makers, they’re all at hand to help navigate next steps that matter.

2. You don’t have to start from scratch.

Whether we’re talking about setting goals, defining measures of success, aligning on levels of commitment, or tuning with your value chain, there are existing models and metric frameworks to leverage. The best starting point are the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) committed to by over 190 countries, and over 9,500 CEOs and counting worldwide! From there, there you can get more specific about which of the main SDGs resonate with your organization directly and define more specific objectives and success targets. That acronym-fest has power! Your suppliers will probably beg you NOT to start from scratch! Take advantage of decades of work others have done and use your associations to align on a roadmap of targets, measures and compliance approaches that are already becoming consistent across a wide range of industries and segments.

3. You know how to do this!

The methods to make this happen, whether you’re working with creatives, operators, strategists, or scientists, are known and actually road-tested, by you! The “how” of sustainability is actually the most familiar part, from defining decision-making criteria to roadmapping your initiatives for a balanced portfolio of quick wins and bigger bets to getting the operational and organizational changes in place. To be fair, though, the more mature these processes and capabilities are, the easier it is to incorporate the sustainability net positive conversation. If you have an established criteria set by which you evaluate new products, updating that list to include cradle-to-cradle oriented measures for product viability works because you’re already in a fact-based evaluation. That being said, you may find that the value proposition to be more sustainable might include building better business acumen to make that happen.

4. You decide what to do when, and your customers can help.

There’s no one right way to do this. Whether your customers are already telling you that brand loyalty in your category is tied to your environmental reputation, or you’re taking this on to address compliance or operational needs of your own, or some combination of all of it, you decide where you are on the sustainability journey and what to do next. The beauty of this conversation is that while you can start with a sustainability portfolio and roadmap of initiatives, your end goal is really to have these decisions and efforts seamlessly merge into your overall strategic and operational portfolio of initiatives, just part of the entire growth plan toward a truly sustainable future as an organization.

5. You don’t need a revolution.

It’s not zero to Patagonia. Sustainability is a muscle group that may need to be developed and trained just like any other corporate value. You do need sponsorship, engagement, and commitment. You may decide to start with “nudges” to make the right thing the easiest thing, like going after employee engagement to reduce office waste, or digging into supplier relationships to get to truly mutual partnerships that can adapt and flex as your value chain may need. You work with your leadership to build the decision-making muscle and prioritize what matters most to you, your customers and your brand. Your roadmap is critical to sustain the journey. Your storytelling along the way will build your momentum and boost you toward more purpose-driven achievements. 

6. The time is NOW

No, really, the time is now, more than it has ever been. Just ask your customers, look at your competitors, and ask your suppliers. Not only does the sustainability community have the strength to help, but the marketplace is also giving you the green light. Consumers are showing up, with measurable brand loyalty and promoter scoring on the basis of environmental and social impact.  Thanks to the companies that led the way and elevated standards, suppliers are already shifting to better and more with less waste and depletion.  You already know that resource and relationship efficiency, more adaptability, and better partnerships all show up on the positive side of margin analysis. So, whether your company’s “why” is from the heart, head or gut, this is a viable business conversation with no good reason to delay.

So, take that deep breath and let’s get started!   

Jennifer Diamond is a sustainability and delivery management practitioner and educator with a passion for turning ambitious ideas into extraordinary outcomes.

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