Beyond the sustainability business case

Coro Strandberg, sustainability consultant
Coro Strandberg, sustainability consultant

Your company is cutting waste, finding efficiencies, and engaging employees. So what's next on the road to building a sustainable business?

Canadian Business for Social Responsibility has offered an answer with its "Transformational Company" guidelines, the topic of a recent presentation by sustainability advocate Coro Strandberg, who helped develop the concept.

"We're looking at nine billion people on the planet by 2050, and we're already living on the equivalent of three planets," she said. "How does this affect business risk and opportunity, suppliers and customers? How does business add sustainability to its other considerations? This is the 'question du jour.'"

Strandberg was speaking at the 2013 Eco Forum of the Certified General Accountants Association of B.C., hosted in part by BC Hydro Power Smart. The CGA has been working to help its membership understand how sustainability is relevant to accounting careers.

The value of sustainability: 15% better performance during financial crisis

Strandberg discussed a variety of trends that are shaping business and the landscape in which it operates, from climate change and resource scarcity to increasing connectivity and the motivations of the millennial generation. Her point: the trends create an intense mix of risk and opportunity. Smart companies will succeed through innovation.

"Sustainability is a megaforce on par with the industrial revolution," she noted. "Think about a force as profound as that."

The benefits of sustainability are undeniable. Reduced operating costs, improved employee retention; positive brand and customer relationship outcomes. In fact, a study by AT Kearney found that companies with a commitment to sustainability out-performed their peers during the 2008 financial crisis by 15%.

But there's more.

"Transformational" companies help lead the way

Strandberg urged companies to see not only the benefits of sustainability, but the opportunity to play a leadership role. She introduced a 19-point "Transformational Company" framework. The framework helps companies consider how to play a role in addressing the systemic risks, challenges and opportunities facing society, while achieving their business targets.

BC Hydro offers a similar roadmap for comprehensive sustainability change, called the Energy Management Assessment (EMA) tool. Read more about EMA, or download a PDF overview [PDF, 233 KB].

Transformational companies have a sustainable purpose and customer offerings. They are solutions-oriented, with long-term vision, closed-loop resource usage, and excellent resource productivity. While earning their necessary revenues, they are actively seeking ways to make positive change: through ecosystem restoration, influence up and down their value chain, and collaboration with industry peers to seek systemic solutions.

Strandberg noted that change is happening quickly. Ten years ago, there was no price set on carbon, which is now a growing consideration for business. She expects within a generation there will be a price on all natural resources, and companies will also likely set a price on the social impacts of their operations.

She pointed to Puma, the first company to come out with an environmental profit and loss statement. "They did it for brand, but also to know what it would cost if they internalized those costs," she said.

"You're on a journey. You're on a race against time, we all are, a race against odds," she said. "This is an opportunity for you to see the roadmap and help us see the way forward."