Sustainability is the word of the moment. It’s become fashionable, and often used when defining a company’s strategy and values, but what does it mean and how does it manifest itself? City Managers should start shedding light on how sustainability works, as it is often poorly understood in the context of businesses. Sustainability is not an add-on, it’s not an initiative. It is a culture change and the process should constantly be nurtured by modern day corporate managers.
A public company today last on average 18 years and their CEOs average only 4.5 years. Although this makes it tougher to achieve sustainability on a lasting scale, but such high failure rate within modern day companies have forced new founders to plan for several contingencies. It is now in the DNA of successful companies to be efficient and when these businesses stand for the transformation of the communities they profit from, much can be accomplished in what they put their minds to. However, it is worth remembering that Unilever, Barclays and Cadbury’s are all companies set up centuries ago with a distinct focus on how they could improve people’s lives and help their staff and their communities.
These companies developed world-leading products, pioneered staff villages and schools, built hospitals, and created welfare programs as long ago as the 19th century. They’re still pioneering, and now highlighting the old ways that have served them so well. Paul Polman described how this agenda has dominated Unilever’s product innovation. His team has developed a soap that cleans hands in 10 seconds and not the usual 30 seconds – reducing the water needed to wash hands and encouraging kids to wash their hands; improving the chances of children in developing countries to live beyond six years old. The impact has seen sales rise, and the innovation has spread to Unilever’s supply chain and people policies. The results are wonderful: respect for Unilever is sky high; suppliers want to work with the company; staff are engaged; and it is one of the best followed pages on LinkedIn, creating a strong supply of new talent.
Today, the banking world is perceived very differently and Antony made it clear he was looking to reward staff that achieved success across a broad range of measures from financial to employee-focused, customer satisfaction to wider community action. Antony Jenkins explained how Barclays had gone back to its 17th Century roots as a financier of ambitions and opportunities. The families that created the original bank saw their role to help get the economy moving and to improve people’s lives. The bank wants its teams to think about the role of their bank in their community, funding opportunity, and providing skills and education. The aim is for staff to believe in something bigger than themselves, and look beyond measuring their “self worth” only by their net worth.
Overall I believe that sustainability should not be optional for businesses as the engagement of the free enterprise will positively affect every facets of society eventually building a happy and motivated workforce, customer base and ultimately an army of happy shareholders.
The question is how are you bringing Sustainability to your business or job?