Culture change towards sustainability

Culture – often known as the character of the organization, refers to a company’s values, beliefs, business principles, traditions, ways of operating, and internal work environment. Depending on how a culture gets evolved in a company – is it static or dynamic, is it weak or strong, is it open or authoritative, is it innovative and shared team culture or solely based on individual performance, shows how much the company would be able to adapt itself to the ever changing societal demands and pressures of the market place.

And the current culture is shifting towards to what Stu Hart calls as ‘Creative Destruction’- eating in to the company’s current business so as to replace it with a better new sustainable business. Since it is not a business as usual strategy, many companies find it hard to apply it in principle.

Generally, sustainability programs take 2 routes – operational changes or new product development. Some programs require massive inputs and investments with longer time frames for completion while some have immediate to medium term impacts on the operations with low risk and relatively moderate investments. Here are a few examples:

GE, the $165 billion behemoth with its ‘Ecomagination’ program has made it a company wide change initiative in bringing out a whole range of new products that didn’t even exist only a few years ago since its implementation in 2005. It has entered the emerging markets in India and China with their medical equipment products at a third its original price.  

Gap and Starbucks are changing the operations of their supply chains through fair trade and best labor practices in the factories where they source their raw materials from.

Walmart changed it self completely and is showing how big box retailers can impact whole value chain through both operational and new product changes by life cycle thinking, reduced packaging, transportation, eco-driving, and renewable energy.

Change also occurs from taking cues from outside one’s industry. Tenant – the cleaning solutions company came up with one of their eco-cleaning ideas when they saw doctors in Japan use ion water to clean wounds – and so they developed a new, totally environmentally friendly electrically charged ion cleaning solution for floors.

Sometimes, it is the example set by the smaller companies like Patagonia that forces the bigger players to follow. An apparel code of conduct was formed and initiated byPatagonia which now includes 25 companies like Nike, Walmart, Timberland etc.

Most of the Fortune 500 companies have taken some sort of Sustainability change initiatives and are progressing in the right track with some having immediate wins and savings while some experiencing difficulties implementing the right practices. A good balance of incentive programs, competition and legislations are critical in arriving at practical, scalable and replicable solutions.

Nonetheless, it will be the small incremental changes that slowly alter the thinking of corporations – because doing less bad will not be good enough as the demand for sustainable practices become more of a norm than exception.



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