These are trying times for the sustainability movement. The economic downturn has forced companies across the globe to slash budgets and let valuable employees go. This is often placing “green” programs on the back burner. Luckily there is a new book, Return on Sustainability (ROS), that provides executives and managers with exactly what they need to do to maintain, grow, and even start, their sustainability initiatives. It provides a logical, step-by-step analysis that allows businesses to asses the cost, marketing potential, impact, and difficulty of each of their “green” programs.
Reading the headlines, or listening to your favorite pod cast, it is no wonder that many companies have lost their focus on sustainability. In most cases, the funds associated with “going green” have been moved to what are deemed “more appropriate” projects. This is what happens when sustainability is not at the core of an organization’s mission. Patagonia,Timberland, and Stonyfield Farm, would never abandon their green efforts in the face of difficult economic times. But I realize that most companies were not built as a way to protect the planet like these three icons of sustainable business, so I will give them all some time to get with the program. Sustainability = Good Business and organizations, from AIG and GM to the local non-profit down the road and the small business on the corner, should implement the ROS framework into their management practices so they can start reaping its rewards.
Kevin Wilhelm, CEO of Sustainable Business Consulting, published the book in February, and built his ROS framework using four pillars: Financial, Brand, Sustainability, and Ease of Implementation. These are important topics and I have found that all of them eventually come up when I speak with people about their organization’s sustainability goals.
One area in which I think the ROS program excels is showing companies that implementing sustainability efforts is not just an altruistic action which they can only afford when times are good. Yes, reducing one’s greenhouse gases and putting one’s environmental house in good order will help the entire planet. But if applied strategically and then marketed appropriately, sustainability efforts can increase brand awareness and harness the power that truly caring for the Earth as we face climate change can provide.
This idea of brand recognition being based on sustainability is vital when eco-consultants like Kevin and I are hearing that companies today need to make a profit, not support green initiatives that have a questionable ROI. The ability of the ROS framework to illuminate the brand value of sustainability efforts, showing them to be critical components of an overall marketing program, is doing the “green” movement a great service. And the fact that ROS is helping compnaies begin understanding and minimizing the role they play in climate change is fantastic.