Blogs by InnovatorsBox®

The building blocks of a creative sustainability strategy

Sustainability can be seen as a disruptive technology, breaking into the business world and pushing leaders of organizations large and small to think more meaningfully beyond the bottom line or what’s also called the “triple bottom line” – profit, people, and planet. In other words, sustainability is an innovation that is uprooting consumer habits and business practices to focus advancing a more ethical, sustainable future.

Report on ESG metrics & performance

More than 80 percent of the world’s largest companies now report on Environmental, Social Governance (ESG) or sustainability metrics and performance, The Sustainability Institute  

of Millenials will take a salary-cut...

75 percent of millennials—who will make up three-quarters of the workforce in five years—would take a decrease in salary if it meant working for an environmentally responsible company, Harvard Business School

Upto 10 years

Companies with high ESG ratings outperform the market in the medium (three to five years) and long (five to ten years) term, Deutsche Bank Group

Chances are what I’m telling you is not making you jump out of your chair in shock.

More and more business professionals are recognizing that Environmental, Social, Governance (ESG) is important for the value of the business and the future of our planet. But the problem is there isn’t a standardized instruction manual for how to apply sustainability to your business strategy. As an added challenge, a sustainable business strategy requires financial investment and expert knowledge to navigate the complex landscape.

In order to overcome the hurdles of affordability, adaptability and scalability in a sustainability strategy – creativity is the ultimate renewable energy resource we must tap into.

Okay so you may be thinking, “Oh great the solution to the mysterious principle of sustainability is the mysterious principle of creativity?” Yes! Because just as InnovatorsBox helps reframe the idea of creativity to be a characteristic that EVERYONE possesses and can evolve to innovate in an actionable way, sustainability is a value that EVERY business can apply through some intentional shifts in mindset and actions.

Sustainability is a serious topic with a lot at stake, and that can be intimidating, but it’s also a huge opportunity to become a playground for innovation and creativity. After all, the most successful businesses that have applied sustainability to their strategy have innovated their way to success instead of relying on the guidebook that frankly isn’t there.

The Building Blocks of a Creative Sustainability Strategy:

1. Reframe how you think about sustainability: it’s not an extracurricular activity

Many companies associate sustainability strategy with elevated costs, additional reporting and increased compliance requirements rather than a business advantage. For those of you who relate to that, I challenge you to reframe how you think about a sustainability strategy – it’s not a bonus. It’s not an “add on” or a way to make sure your business is doing the right thing. Sustainability SUPPORTS your business strategy and can be baked into your existing vision, goals, and relationships.

Sustainability is a serious topic with a lot at stake, and that can be intimidating, but it’s also a huge opportunity to become a playground for innovation and creativity. After all, the most successful businesses that have applied sustainability to their strategy have innovated their way to success instead of relying on the guidebook that frankly isn’t there.

Deloitte pulled together an exceptional framework for beginning this process, starting with a  current strategy review, moving into a development plan with a focus on “getting creative” and finalizing with strategy development. I have created my own simplified version of this exercise below, but you can find the full framework here (p. 11).

Strategic Questions in Integrating Sustainability into your Business Strategy

1. Identifying Current Alignment

  • Where in your current strategy /values is there already alignment with creating a better world, supporting people?
  • Where in your current strategy / values are you putting an emphasis on trust and transparency? (the “governance” in ESG)

2. Identifying the Gaps

  • Where in your current business strategy is there tension between sustainable values?
  •  Is there anything at the core of your business practice or strategy that creates over-consumption, intensive use of resources, lack of knowledge about certain aspects of your business like sourcing/supply chain, etc.


3. Brainstorm Action-Steps/Applications

  • What are the “easy wins” – places in your business where we can more intentionally up our sustainability game?
  • What are some sustainable goals that align with our business values that we have the resources to take action on in the short-term? What about the long-term? 

For a more actionable guide for this step, see my
exercise on applying Sustainable development goals to your business values.

I would argue that many business professionals get stuck at the “sustainability is extra” phase  and don’t take the time to think about innovating within their own strategy by tapping into the creative power of themselves and their teams. And speaking of teams…

2. Bring in everyone into the sustainability conversation

Today’s sustainability challenges call for the help of the radical entrepreneurial innovators, the artists, the communicators, the data analysts, the finance experts, your business partners, you name it – who all possess the quality of creativity. Business sustainability strategy should not be a silo’d conversation between leadership, the sustainability department, etc.

Sustainability involves everyone, because it affects everyone. One of the best ways to start bringing your team into the sustainability conversation is to show your team why sustainability is relevant to them. 

One of the best ways I’ve seen larger organizations collaborate cross-functionality when it comes to sustainability is to create an employee resource group or volunteer group of varying levels of seniority where the employees who are already on-board can help design events, webinars and even sustainability and creativity games to get the sustainability conversation started. An important step in this process is also giving employees actionable ways to integrate these values into their day-to-day work life, whether that be creating clear material to use in communicating the sustainable values of the company or providing opportunities like employee car-pooling.

3. Continue to Ideate and Innovate: Sustainability in your business offering and communications

Whether you’re in e-commerce, a B2B consultant, a coach, a small business owner, or a 10,000+ employee corporation, there are creative ways to integrate sustainability into your business itself to not only support your strategy, but wow the audience you serve. After all, business has always been about innovation.

Creating A More Sustainable Business Offering: With products the possibilities are endless: How can you reduce waste or resell? More sustainable materials or suppliers? When you have a service digital company it’s different but you still have an impact and can offset it. For example, I’ve seen digital businesses gift trees to clients in the sales funnel.

Sustainable Business Communications: A great example I’ve seen on the social side of sustainability is Etsy, who gave the opportunity to opt out of mothers day, fathers day, and valentines emails, a serious example of how to easily integrate empathy into a business model.

Again, none of these examples overhauled a current system, they rethought how to integrate environmentalism, empathy / social inclusion and transparency into what was already there. And I guarantee the businesses who have had success in sustainability did not make these decisions only at the top, but through innovative, cross-functional collaboration with teams. And the secret sauce? The creativity that lies within everyone helps us rethink, evolve and strategize for the future of everyone and everything.

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