Handy Business Sustainability Reference Book: Mainstreaming Sustainability


Mainstreaming Corporate Sustainability. Credit: Books.google.com
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This is a thoughtful compendium of important sustainability tools and references. It is actionable as well as informative in a concise, readable text. This is a book to learn “Sustainability 101”, with emphasis on the tools but including some of the philosophical underpinnings. If you are a sustainability practitioner, consider having this “refresher” on your desk. Most of the topics could be addressed more deeply, and have had standalone research, articles and books written about them. This book can be a jumping off point into deeper work or a handy reference.

The book starts with sustainability and value, including an introduction, definition of corporate sustainability,  addressing it positively, and elements for implementation. As the author emphasizes,   performance frameworks are truly the “secret sauce” whether implementation is a “ program” or done more quietly as ongoing work. This chapter also touches on managing results and  urgency on climate change issues.

Chapter 2,  “Corporate Perspective”, is weaker from my perspective, having observed many companies during my 36 year corporate career.  There are strong anecdotal  examples, but not the awareness of the wide variability of large and small company performance revealed by a myriad of ratings such as the Dow Jones Sustainability Index and Corporate Human Rights Benchmarking. Over generalization risks leaving a lingering sense of anti-corporate sentiment . That said, the chapter covers important topics:  triple-bottom line thinking, employee engagement, trade issues, and a supply chain overview.

Chapter 3 is a good, basic summary of the elements in business cases for sustainability. This section could go further – into environmental and ecological economics, decision and risk analysis, well-being indicators versus GDP, for example.

Chapter Four, is exciting and actionable! Sustainability footprint-  creating boundary conditions, understanding footprint analysis, process mapping, lifecycle analysis, value chain activity and inventory are included. Focus is on tools for thinking about the frame and completeness of the company footprint, not as much on the nitty gritty of calculations.

Chapter Five provides an overview of the importance and structure of governance and management today. It doesn’t address how to use governance to implement sustainability, but does prompt the reader to consider it.

In Chapter Six, the book tackles stakeholder engagement, including the basic tools that are used for prioritizing stakeholders, considering performance framework expectations, and tools for engagement.

Chapter Seven on environmental stewardship mentions some of the most thoughtful works on environmental stewardship, including natural capitalism, environmental responsibility,  codes, indicators and standards.  There’s a helpful diagram on Scope One, Two and Three greenhouse gas emissions, a bit on regulatory standards versus market approaches and a short section on carbon pricing.

Chapter 8, on social well being, includes social responsibilities, and measuring social indicators. The UN Sustainable Development Goals are in this chapter, and very thoughtfully summarized.

Chapter 9 on economic prosperity covers staying in business over the long term, sustainable economic indicators are, and how to value reputation- a particularly good overview. This chapter also gets into risk management which for some companies is the best entry point for implementing sustainability.

Chapter 10 tackles corporate sustainability strategy, how strategy works, planning for it, connecting it to performance frameworks, and what a carbon neutral strategy would cover.  Strategy in a mere 10 pages!

Chapter 11 covers sustainability management systems in the typical plan/do/assess/adjust frameworks, particularly the Baldrige Excellence Framework. For companies with an established safety management system, building on it may move the company forward more quickly than starting with a new “program”.

Chapter 12, on Supply Chain Management, recognizes the complexity of supply chain sustainability,  connecting vision and corporate objectives, basic supplier codes of conduct and addressing GHG emissions. These actions can be taken early to reduce risk. The Shared Value concept is described, and some companies are moving toward more mutually beneficial actions.

Chapter 13 lightly touches on sustainability metrics, including the materiality matrix, which is important for reporting today.  The importance of leading and lagging indicators is addressed, and well understood by many companies from their work on safety.

Chapter 14, is on reporting on sustainability performance, but the information is so basic that it risks missing a key point- the challenge of prioritizing and handling a vast number of requests from rating groups and other stakeholders. This chapter is a nice short intro to the basics on financial and non financial reporting. Just be forewarned: this is a very big complex topic!  Integrated reporting can squeeze out sustainability content requested by stakeholders, and “materiality” by SEC definition adds to tension between financial and non-financial reporting.

Chapter 15 discusses design, marketing and stewardship, moving us into proactive aspects of sustainability:  changing design for production efficiency and environmental improvements, integrating design,  and using lifecycle analysis. This chapter provides some of the key tools and methodologies that advanced companies such as Interface and Autodesk are using.

Finally, Chapter 16 talks about innovation. Certainly the most exciting aspects of sustainability are cultural shifts from compliance to innovation, and from cost to business value. Sustainability fosters empowerment, safety, innovation, and action for the benefit of the company and the broader community.

In summary, this book is an excellent compendium of tools, frameworks and basic concepts for sustainability.  It can prompt dialog, deeper work, refreshing of key concepts, or serve as a quick reference on key aspects of corporate sustainability for stakeholders.