The current corporate sustainability movement is unsustainable, the authors argue. Not because companies are pursuing the wrong goals — but because they are going about them the wrong way. Never before have companies been more conscious of the need to run their businesses in an environmentally, socially, and economically responsible fashion. Yet never before have theory and practice been wider apart. When it comes to practicing and not just preaching sustainability, many companies struggle and most flounder in developing and implementing a sustainable business model. Many executives know and feel the importance of making their businesses sustainable. But many of them can't make the transformation occur. Worse still, many don't even know they're failing. Based on their experience and observations, the authors identify key roadblocks to embedding sustainable business models and offer a roadmap to circumvent them.
According to the authors, companies need to recognize that sustainability is not just another change initiative. Change-management initiatives are usually driven by some external factors or by lack of internal performance and are typically directed at increasing profitability and shareholder value. Sustainability, on the other hand, is about people and planet as well, not just profit. Sustainability involves creating value for all stakeholders in the ecosystem and viewing profits as a consequence of such value creation. Sustainability also requires a business to look at its entire value chain.
A company's sustainability initiative, the authors argue, should be led by the CEO and should become a priority for the board. Business executives should also strive to attract the support of the company's middle management. In addition, sustainability must apply to the entire supply chain — and even beyond, to the usage and disposal of products. Because the details are so granular, this requires the attention, effort, and creative thinking of all employees and units.
Of course, one company cannot solve the world's biggest problems all by itself. Companies need to form alliances with competitors in their sustainability journey. One example: The Consumer Goods Forum, representing top retailers and consumer-goods manufacturers, came together to work toward eliminating net deforestation in members' supply chains by sustainably sourcing the commodities that drive much deforestation: palm oil, beef, soy, and timber. That commitment was made possible by companies including Unilever, Procter & Gamble, Nestle, Coca-Cola, and PepsiCo agreeing on a plan.