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According to the 2017 Sustainability Leaders Survey, having an integrated sustainability strategy and vision will define leading organisations across the world in a decade from now. The survey which is an outcome of a unique collaboration between two leading sustainability-focused organisations – Globescan and SustainAbility, is a global survey of 1035 sustainability experts. Respondents of the survey were selected from various sectors which include government (5%), NGO (12%), Academic and Research (21%), Corporate (29%), Service and Media (26%), Other industries (7%). Also, the respondents were drawn from 79 countries across six continents.

In the survey, the respondents were asked to rate the future of sustainability leadership and describe the characteristics that they think will most define leading organisations a decade from now. 35% of the respondents picked having an integrated sustainability strategy and vision as the attributes that will define leading sustainable organisations. Other highly rated attributes include innovation, transparency, engagement and human rights.

Source: The GlobeScan-SustainAbility Survey. The 2017 Sustainability Leaders

Several 21st-century management literature suggests that sustainability requirements now shape business operations and businesses are viewed in terms of their economic, social and environmental interests and footprints. The integration of sustainability into a business’ strategy can help reconcile a business’ traditional interests with its social and environmental responsibility.

Sustainability strategies are the processes and systems adopted by companies to identify and manage key social and environmental risks and opportunities. Hence, an integrated sustainability strategy is one that makes sustainable development, the core of a business management strategy. Some of the business cases for an integrated sustainability strategy include cost and risk reduction, reputation and brand value, innovative capabilities, talent attraction, and retention. Sustainable companies are able to limit resource utilisation and waste, develop socially and environmentally innovative products, increase product differentiation and operational efficiencies, thereby saving cost, identifying growth opportunities, gaining competitive advantage, increasing brand reputation and contributing to the goal of sustainable development. According to Dr. Adolf Acquaye, failing to adopt an integrated approach to sustainability could mean rapidly losing ground to your competitors.

Over the years, some businesses have struggled with incorporating sustainability and CSR into their business strategy. However, this can be achieved by following some formulated models. A popular one is that by Dyllick et al, 1997. According to Dyllick et al. (cited by Bieker), five types of strategy can be distinguished, and these strategies have been employed progressively: Safety strategy which aims at reducing and managing risks associated with products, processes and stakeholders; Credibility strategy which is focused on sustaining brand image and reputation among various stakeholders; Efficiency strategy which allows improvement in productivity and efficiency such as eco-efficiency and social performance; Innovation strategy which aims at creating product differentiation and competitive advantage; and, Transformation strategy which allows for the creation of new markets or transformation of existing institutional and industry frameworks.

Many companies have indeed made great strides in achieving various aspects of sustainability or sustainable development, however, an integrated sustainability strategy which is a comprehensive method for aligning a company’s vision with that of society will become a must-have for corporate leaders in the coming decade(s). Hence, businesses without this comprehensive framework must go back to the drawing board with genuine commitment and develop a well-laid plan for incorporating sustainability into their business agenda.

References:

Bieker, T., Sustainability Management with the Balanced Scorecard, In Karner, S., Oehme, I. and Seebacher, U. eds. Corporate Sustainability, 5th International Summer Academy on Technology Studies, Deutschlandsberg, Austria, July 13-19. 2003. Conference Proceedings, pp. 17-34.

The GlobeScan-SustainAbility Survey. The 2017 Sustainability Leaders.

Why Sustainability is Important in Business – Kent Business Matters, Dr. Adolf Acquaye, May 2017.

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