Friday, September 16, 2011

Counting What Counts in the World of Sustainable Business

Yesterday, I talked about the benefits to consumers offered by the radical transparency tool, Good Guide.

In the world of sustainable business, "radical transparency" -- being forthright about the health and environmental impacts of your products -- is, a rising trend as well.

No doubt, the hard work that enables transparency is important for fostering customer support for products that are healthier for ourselves and the ecosystems that human well-being depends upon.  It's definitely helping Conservation Value, Inc. client, Spaldin Sleep Systems, build trust with its customers.

What else can businesses do with all this information to boost their profits and productivity?

The important thing to remember, says Jim Hartzfeld in this insightful post, is that "putting your primary efforts where they can have the best environmental or social impact will have much more impact in the long run. Sustainability reporting has an important role in guiding your strategic decisions, but you have to count what counts."

What does that mean?

In Hartzfeld's words:

The general perception is that “You can’t manage what you don’t measure,” which is absolutely appropriate in day-to-day management decisions. But just because you can count something doesn’t mean it counts. As Robert F. Kennedy once said about the gross national product, it “measures everything, in short, except that which makes life worthwhile.” And in strategic decision-making, intangibles like innovation and employee and stakeholder engagement factor very much into your success.
The MIT Sloan School of Management and Boston Consulting Group’s 2011 report “Sustainability: The ‘Embracers’ Seize Advantage” ( offered seven practices to learn from “embracers,” those aggressively implementing sustainability-driven strategies. The report highlights this seeming contradiction in leading companies who seek to measure everything (and if ways of measuring something don’t exist, start inventing them) and the ability to value intangible benefits seriously.
Then focus on the things that really make a difference to get ahead.
Once you have established a baseline and used the gritty detail to chart your course, prioritize only the aspects that will create the most material changes and focus your energy there. 
The results, as more and more companies are learning, include improvements in energy and resource efficiency (and thus reduced costs), reduced risks, and boosts to brand reputation and sales.

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