This paper presents a vision of corporate sustainability, which places an emphasis on innovation as the means to add value, not just to the bottom line, but to the environment and society at large.
The research and case studies summarised here build on more than three decades of experience and insight. As far back as 1972, the Club of Rome, an international think-tank, recognised that depletion of the Earth’s natural resources at the current rate would, eventually, lead to severe economic fallout. Fifteen years later, the Brundtland Commission to the UN laid down the most well-known definition of what had by then become known as sustainable
development: “Meeting the needs of the present without compromising
the ability of future generations to meet their own
This paper draws on these early lessons, and builds on the solid foundations laid by initiatives including the Dow Jones Sustainability Index, Tomorrow’s Global Company, SustainAbility and others, all of which have impressed upon the business world the need to look beyond shareholder value, to consider social and environmental impacts, as well.
We have called this approach: S2AVE (Shareholder and Social Added Value with Environment
restoration), to emphasise how organisations can successfully and profitably address all three elements of the ‘triple bottom line’ simultaneously – becoming increasingly agile and innovative as they do so. This view reflects our conviction that sustainability is not an objective so much as a journey, one which may see the business undergo radical transformation.
We demonstrate how, effectively wielded, innovation can help open the doors to radical new business models, engage profitably with previously untapped markets, and enable the business to become a truly agile, strategic entity through a systemic and integrated approach.
We also consider how the opportunities presented by this approach create new complexity for managers: sustainable strategies can lengthen value chains, and require the business to engage with local communities, governments, NGOs and even competitors in ways many may still consider taboo.
Finally, we conclude that the steps to achieving S2AVE do not rely on extensive re-engineering of
the corporate structure, but require conviction and vision. These steps can be initiated immediately and indeed, given the speed with which the markets are changing, must be addressed by companies with some urgency.
1. Make innovating for sustainability a part of your company’s vision
2. Formulate a strategy with sustainability at its heart
3. Embed sustainability in every part of your business
4. Walk the talk: emphasise actions, not words
5. Set up a body at board level with the power to make sustainability matter
6. Set firm rules
7. Bring your stakeholders on board
8. Use people power
9. Join the networks
10. Think beyond reporting: align all business systems with the company’s vision of sustainability