SCALE-UP, SPEED UP:
I0 STRATEGIES TO ACCELERATE THE IMPACT OF YOUR SUSTAINABILITY BUSINESS
The Zethof Consulting Group Scale-Up, Speed Up: 10 Strategies to Accelerate the Impact of your Sustainabiltiy Business
Table of Contents Introduction ........................................................................................................................................................................ 3 What We Mean by Sustainability ................................................................................................................................... 4 Pathways To Scale ............................................................................................................................................................. 5 Barriers To Scale ............................................................................................................................................................... 6 Barriers To Scale for Big Business ............................................................................................................................ 6 Barriers To Scale for Small Business ........................................................................................................................ 9 Creating New Ecosystems............................................................................................................................................... 9 CASE STUDY – Change System Conditions to Encourage Change .......................................................... 11 CASE STUDY – Drive a Solution to Force Change....................................................................................... 12 Scaling Strategies .............................................................................................................................................................. 12 Scaling Strategies for Big Business ........................................................................................................................... 13 Organizational Focus – Strategies to Shift the Organization ....................................................................... 13 Ecosystem Focus – Strategies to Drive Collaborative Solutions ................................................................ 16 Scaling Strategies for Small Business ....................................................................................................................... 21 Organizational Focus – Strategies to Build a Strong, Fit-for-Purpose Team............................................ 21 Ecosystem Focus – Strategies to Forge Strategic Relationships.................................................................. 22 Summary of Scaling Strategies .................................................................................................................................. 22 Change Strategy ............................................................................................................................................................... 23 Conclusion......................................................................................................................................................................... 24 Endnotes ............................................................................................................................................................................ 25
The Zethof Consulting Group Scale-Up, Speed Up: 10 Strategies to Accelerate the Impact of your Sustainabiltiy Business
Introduction Sustainability business champions encounter obstacles to the growth and development of their enterprise that “old economy” businesses do not face. Growing a sustainable enterprise is exciting – it is a world of innovation and opportunity. At the same time, the gravitational pull of short-termism, fossilized mind-sets, and institutional systems designed for a by-gone industrial age represent significant obstacles to growth. All around we see promising sustainability projects yet too often exciting new initiatives hit a ceiling that slows or blocks further progress. The findings of the UN Global Compact CEO Survey on Sustainability 2013 backs up this observation.
Business champions of sustainability encounter obstacles to growth and development not typically experienced by “old economy” businesses.
The CEO Survey found that 93 percent of CEOs regard sustainability as key to success. 1 Yet, the ratio of CEOs who perceive sustainability as very important to their business has fallen since the previous survey in 2010. In 2010, 54 percent of CEOs said sustainability would be “very important” to the future success of their business. In 2013, this figure fell to 45 percent. Businesses, CEOs in the survey believe, are not leading on sustainability in the way that was predicted three years ago. They have reached a plateau in their efforts. The challenge: how can you surmount the obstacles to scale that you encounter so you can break through them and build a thriving, growing sustainability enterprise? What are the strategies that have been shown to work? Ultimately, how can a business leader “mainstream” sustainability so that other actors in the economy buy into the vision and act in concert to create the conditions necessary for wide scale adoption? In this whitepaper, we offer a solid framework to help leaders of big and small businesses alike grapple with this challenge.
How can a sustainability champion overcome the obstacles of the old order and scale up innovative solutions at an accelerated pace?
Our framework provides a menu of proven strategies – strategies that can help break through the inevitable obstacles that arise as you grow your sustainability enterprise.
The Zethof Consulting Group Scale-Up, Speed Up: 10 Strategies to Accelerate the Impact of your Sustainabiltiy Business
What We Mean by Sustainability Sustainability is a loaded word that can mean virtually anything to anybody. There is no universally accepted definition. Martin Melaver, CEO of Melaver Inc., has a useful definition. He says that the Latin root perhaps best explains “sustainable” as something that feeds us or nurtures us. He notes that there are critical metaphysical,
True sustainability is part of core strategy, it’s not an “add on,” and people can detect the difference.
system as the most promising way to align system parameters (e.g. market incentives, government policies, regulations, etc.) that enable break through performance. Leaders of sustainability businesses strive for a world in which economic, social, environmental and cultural aspirations are considered not as isolated goals, but as interdependent parts of a single system.4 This definition aligns with the “triple bottom line” concept. Ultimately, sustainability businesses are regenerative; they restore, replenish, and rejuvenate. A regenerative enterprise provides more services to the human and natural world than it takes out.5
spiritual, and physical connotations to the term. A sustainable business provides sustenance for life and living. It is about being part of what the naturalist Aldo Leopold once described as a “landcommunity” ethic. 2 Business leaders in this area work towards sustainability in three broad ways: via footprint, handprint, and blueprint. 3 The place to start for any business is to minimize its own environmental footprint on the planet by reducing emissions and being energy and resource efficient. The second way is to assess and optimize the business handprint in terms of the value proposition and whether products and services make a net positive contribution for a more livable and just world. And the third way is for businesses to engage with the broader community to create a blueprint and take action for healthier communities and better institutional systems. Experts in the field view collaboration with other actors in the
Measuring regenerative benefits is difficult but Michael Dell of Dell Computer wants his company to try. He has announced a goal of “measuring not only the sustainable and social initiatives Dell can execute, but also the ripple effect of
how our technology enables others to benefit the planet.” Over the next seven years, Dell seeks to generate ten times more benefit through its technology than it
takes to make and use it in the first place.6 This perspective of the business meets the sustainability test.
Pathways To Scale “Scale-up, speed up” in the context of this paper means doing much more of something that contributes to sustainability and doing so at a faster rate. What this looks like will be different for every company. It could mean moving to a zero waste operation or achieving widespread adoption of a clean technology. Or it could mean successfully working with politicians to create incentives for adoption of renewable energies. The pathways to scale from the perspective of the global economy can be viewed as a progression from the Eureka moment of invention followed by experimentation, the development of new business models, the creation of new ecosystems of activity, and finally a flip to a new economy when the tipping point is reached7: Figure 1: Pathways to Scale
Eureka! Opportunity is revealed via the growing dysfunction of the existing order.
Experiment Innovators and entrepreneurs begin to experiment, a period of trial and error.
Entrepreneur Investors and managers build new business models creating new forms of value.
In this model and given our current institutional arrangements, there is a point
Ecosystem Critical mass and partnerships evolve new markets and institutional arrangements.
Economy The economic system flips to a more sustainable state supported by culture change.
at which it becomes more difficult for a sustainability enterprise to stay on a
scale-up trajectory without the cooperation and alignment of other actors in the economy. This threshold is at stage 4, the ecosystem stage. At stages 4 and 5, it is important that external factors such as market signals, regulations, and the policy environment support the growth of a particular sustainability solution. In many cases, these supportive conditions do not exist and so growth becomes stalled. Many businesses have embarked on the sustainability journey; some are further along than others. The majority of businesses on the journey are active somewhere in the first three stages of implementing sustainability, as indicated by a recent survey by Deloitte and Volans.8 Such enterprises serve as laboratories of sustainable business practices and provide exemplars for us to study. Thousands of companies across all sectors have published sustainability reports.9 But such practices and projects are only part of the solution.
We should also learn from the business leaders who are successfully driving the transformations needed to overhaul their companies and the ecosystems in which they operate so they can really scale-up the sustainability aspects of their businesses. Examples of leading companies on this journey are Unilever, Interface Global, and Patagonia. These companies understand that existing ecosystems and economies are replete with barriers to a business trying to scale a sustainable solution. By making changes in ecosystems and economies, they are able to reach tipping points that position their sustainable products and services for takeoff and widespread adoption. For example, when electrical systems were modernized for light bulbs, if you were in the business of light bulbs, your sales took off. But if you were selling kerosene lamps, your sales plummeted. So pushing for change in an ecosystem to tipping points is often necessary to clear the way for new sustainability solutions.
Barriers To Scale Business is no stranger to the scaling challenge. After all, the quest for business growth is constant. But rapid growth from a sustainability perspective is particularly difficult. Big businesses trying to make the shift must deal with the legacies and complications of what already exists, whereas small to medium-sized businesses (i.e. SMEs) have to navigate the tricky shoals of starting up a new enterprise. In both cases, once a sustainability business has achieved some traction, it encounters obstacles to growth within its ecosystem and economy.
Barriers To Scale for Big Business The UN Global Compact CEO Survey on Sustainability 2013 found that even as CEOs are making progress in embedding sustainability throughout their business, it is becoming increasingly apparent that they feel constrained by factors that hinder more progress. Figure 2 below sets out the most
significant barriers identified by the CEOs, which keeps them from implementing an integrated and strategic company-wide approach to environmental, social and corporate governance issues.10
Figure 2: Critical Barriers for CEOs, 2013 Lack of financial resources
Competing strategic priorities
No clear link to business value
Extending strategy throughout the supply chain
Difficulty due to operating environment
Implementing strategy across business functions
Lack of knowledge
Lack of recognition from investors
Extending strategy throughout subsidiaries
None of the above
Lack of support from top management
Percentage of repondents identifying each factor among their top three choices.
The most significant barriers were found to be the lack of financial resources, competing strategic priorities, and the lack of a clear link to business value. It is perhaps unsurprising that lack of financial resources and competing priorities are the top constraints. New innovations often have to compete for resources against products and services with an established
CEOs in the survey saw one constraint intensifying more than any other over the past decade revenue stream and entrenched product champions. People tend to protect their turf and are often unwilling to share resources. Poor economic conditions and competition for resources only exacerbate this problem.
Moreover, large companies are prone to miss implementing disruptive technologies because they are tied to their existing offerings (known as the innovatorâ€™s dilemma). Many struggle to innovate and build new businesses. They often opt to buy smaller companies with promising technologies but then they have the challenge of merging divergent cultures. Large companies also tend to overlook what appear to be small markets because they need big markets to satisfy their short-term growth objectives. Shareholders and financial markets put pressure on CEOs for quarterly profit growth. Short-termism sabotages sustainability efforts made for the long-term. Three other constraints highlighted by the CEOs point to the difficulty of embedding sustainability in large organizations. These constraints are extending and implementing strategy across a corporationâ€™s supply chain, its subsidiaries, and its business functions. As businesses grow they become more complex and
bureaucratic. Change becomes more difficult and takes time because of the number of people, functions and systems involved. Some people resist change because they perceive more to lose and less to gain from a big shift. Paradoxically, not changing is the bigger risk in terms of business continuity. CEOs in the survey saw one constraint intensifying more than any other over the past decade: the lack of a link between sustainability and business value drivers. In 2007, just 18 percent reported a failure to trace such a link and this year more than a third - 37 percent - reported
this factor as deterring them from taking faster action on sustainability. Despite the search for new conceptions of value “shared value” for example CEOs in the survey were clear that action must be justified against traditional measures of success. Yet, the sustainability leaders have envisioned a new kind of dashboard that drives them to excel according to traditional business metrics, as well as by sustainability metrics aimed at solving global challenges. They follow both compasses at the same time:
“An examination of survey responses from the companies covered by this year’s study and by Accenture’s long-term High-Performance Business research program produces the early indications of a potentially striking conclusion. CEOs of companies that combine externally-recognized sustainability leadership with market-leading business performance, as measured by traditional metrics including revenue growth, profitability and shareholder returns, approach sustainability in markedly different ways to those who are failing to achieve this distinction – with different motivations, different influencers and different areas prioritized for investment, innovation and action. Leading CEOs are already uncovering strategies for sustainability that allow them to deliver both value creation for their companies and impact on global challenges.”11 The nature of the top constraints acknowledged by the CEOs suggests that the vast majority of businesses are still in the early stages of the sustainability journey and they have, in effect, become stuck. Some of these CEOs may have a bifurcated view of sustainability, a view that sees sustainability as something separate from the core business. The sustainability leaders don’t look at it this way – they integrate sustainability into the core of their business.
Accenture has found that only a small cluster of business leaders have an integrated perspective of business and sustainability that gives them the rationale for investing in sustainability. These leaders are further along in their sustainability journey. This gives them the laser focus that enables them to advocate and collaborate effectively with external system actors on transforming ecosystems and economies.
Barriers To Scale for Small Business The challenge for SMEs is more apt to be the successful commercialization of a new technology or product, which can be a treacherous process (see Figure 3). SMEs also share some of the challenges facing big business. Taking a technology from concept to market requires skill, resources and a good deal of luck. An effective commercialization process has six stages each of which has technical, marketing, and business issues to address. At any step, unforeseen issues can arise that can derail the technology if the process is not well managed. Figure 3: Technology Commercialization Model12
A new innovation in any industry has the added challenge of displacing the established paradigm. For example, take Method Cleaning Products, which produces nontoxic, biodegradable natural cleaning supplies with a focus on minimalist product design. Method has gained recognition for its commitment to sustainability, including taking innovative steps to measure and reduce its carbon footprint. In 2006, Inc. Magazine named Method the 7th fastest-growing private company in the United States. For all of its success, when its co-founder spoke at the Conscious Capitalism 2013 Conference in San Francisco, he good-naturedly urged delegates to buy the company’s laundry detergent because “it’s so hard to get people to switch their laundry detergent.”13 This is just one example of how difficult it can be to displace an established brand with a new more sustainable one.
Creating New Ecosystems CEOs that are implementing sustainability will eventually come up against constraints in their operating environment that frustrate efforts to scale their solution into the marketplace. This is the stage where the CEO feels friction between his/her
sustainability solution and the company’s ecosystem. An ecosystem, a concept borrowed from biology, encompasses the players in the system, the complex interactions between them, and the impact of the
environmental conditions on the system. Acting together, the system players create the regulatory, political, cultural and other system conditions that either support or work against a sustainability solution. To date, national governments have generally not taken a strong leadership role in shaping ecosystems and economies in a sustainable direction. For example, a GlobeScan/SustainAbility survey of sustainability experts from 117 countries found that a lack of will by political leaders has been the main barrier to progress in implementing the sustainability agenda
formulated at the 1992 Rio Conference on Sustainable Development14. In the same survey, most sustainability experts said the best way for companies to contribute to sustainability is technological development and innovation (See Figure 4).15 The second best way is to work with governments to establish a regulatory environment that supports sustainable development. Also rated highly is participating in multi-sectoral partnerships. These collaborative actions are needed to change ecosystems and cultivate the conditions for large-scale change.
Figure 4: Best Way for Companies to Contribute to Sustainability, 2012 Contributing technological development and innovation
Working with govts. to establish regulations that support sustainable development
Improving internal sustainability performance
Influencing customers toward positive behaviour change
Participating in multi-sectoral partnerships
Mobilizing suppliers on sustainability initiatives
Engaging employees on sustainability initiatives
5% 10% 15% 20% 25% 30% 35% 40% 45%
As Stated by Sustainability Experts
A small group of progressive business leaders are not waiting for governments to lead on sustainability. These leaders are driving the agenda and inviting the players to the table where needed to create the conditions for change. They are committed to using their companiesâ€™ resources, infrastructure, and reach for delivering solutions to the marketplace while producing superior returns for their investors and stakeholders. The business community has formed a number of alliances and coalitions to push
for ecosystem changes. Take the example of The B Team: Recognizing
the need to put some corporate muscle behind the “people, planet, profit” mission, Sir Richard Branson of the Virgin Group and Jochen Zeitz, a former Puma CEO, have spearheaded the formation of The B Team, a new global not-for-profit organization. The group has formulated a Plan B (Plan A is the pursuit of short-term profit at the exclusion of everything else) that will initially tackle challenges in leadership values, triple bottom line accountability, and compensation incentives.16
The B Team and other business initiatives like it aim to drive systemic change. As Arianna Huffington of The Huffington Post and a B Team member put it: “At a time when so many governments are gridlocked and paralyzed and unable or unwilling to pursue big, bold, far-sighted goals, the private sector has a responsibility and a unique opportunity to become a catalyst for fundamental change.”17
A new breed of business leaders is emerging calling for “market revolutions.” They are not happy simply patching dysfunctional systems ... They want to create new ones that work in different ways18. At least two pathways exist for making systemic change: one is to strategically change various system conditions to support and encourage an intended change. The other is to drive a solution that is so successful that system players are compelled to change conditions and in so doing reinforce its spread.19 Below are example case studies of the two approaches to changing ecosystems.
CASE STUDY – Change System Conditions to Encourage Change An example of strategically changing various system conditions to support and encourage an intended change is the solid waste diversion strategies of the Capital Regional District (CRD), a local government on Vancouver Island. While the CRD is not a business, business can learn from its experience. Faced with limited physical capacity for landfilling solid waste, the CRD and its collaborators implemented a range of strategies based on reduce, reuse and recycling (3Rs) for diverting waste materials from the Hartland Landfill near Victoria. The CRD worked with the Provincial Government, the general public, member municipal governments and industry to create the system conditions and infrastructure necessary for program success. By strategically addressing each type of waste material, the CRD in conjunction with its partners has diverted 48 percent (2012) of the base-line waste stream while creating new jobs and business activities in the region.
CASE STUDY – Drive a Solution to Force Change The microbrewery sector in British Columbia is an example of driving a solution that is starting to compel system players to change the environmental conditions. Micro brewing is arguably a sustainability business when done responsibly. Sales have been growing at 25 percent per year to the point where craft beer now represents 20 percent of all beer sales in the province despite historically restrictive liquor laws.20 The sector has grown in spite of government policies not because of it, driven by the passion and desire of entrepreneurs. But the Provincial and local governments have begun to recognize the sector’s benefits making the rules somewhat more accommodative. For example, this year the Provincial Government ruled to allow on-site consumption of craft beer and more favourable mark-up rates (i.e. taxes), although the rates apply to relatively large brewers too.21 Nonetheless, the beer market in the province is transforming from a few large-volume producers with centralized production and far-flung distribution systems to many small-volume craft brewers with neighbourhood establishments. Sustainability business leaders eventually have to decide whether they have the will to drive transformative change in their ecosystem. The route is challenging but, as illustrated by the examples above, not impossible. It requires a shared vision and a commitment to execution by the system players. The players need to acknowledge the need for change and then collaborate for solutions.
Scaling Strategies The preceding section addressed the overall challenge of changing ecosystems so they are supportive of sustainability. Without supportive environmental conditions, it may be impossible to achieve scale. This section presents key strategies for accelerating the impact of your sustainability business. The strategies fall into two categories: strategies for re-shaping your organization and strategies for interacting with other actors in your ecosystem. Sustainability champions drive activities in both categories. Reshaping your organization ensures you have something that customers value and that you are able to scale. Whereas interacting with other actors is needed to remove systemic barriers to scale.
Imagine the scaling challenge from two different perspectives: from the perspective of a large company or a “keystone22“ company which dominates a prevailing market but wishes to shift into the sustainability space; and from the perspective of the SME that aims to displace the dominant, but unsustainable solution, with a more sustainable solution. Each business type has a different challenge and therefore a different set of strategies, although there is overlap. Both business types will have to attend to internal organizational issues, as well as to its role in changing the ecosystem.
Scaling Strategies for Big Business Big business strategies centre on becoming focused on sustainability, on cracking the inertia surrounding legacy products and processes, and on collaborating with other players in the ecosystem to co-create the conditions for change.
Organizational Focus – Strategies to Shift the Organization 1. Have Higher Order Purpose – Who you are and what you stand for as a business has become the most significant differentiator of performance.23 There is a growing segment of the population that looks beyond the product or service to assess the values and behaviours of the business itself. They are attracted to companies with a purpose beyond maximizing profits. Take the case of millennials who are emerging as the world’s most dominant consumer group. There are 1.7 billion millennials globally with 61 percent living in Asia.24 In the US alone, they are projected to spend more than $2.45 trillion annually by 2015.25 There are data indicating that this demographic group is particularly interested in sustainability. For example, the World Economic Forum cites a survey finding that 84 percent of global millennials believe it is their generation’s duty to improve the world (90 percent in China).26 Beyond product affordability and quality, millennials look for brand characteristics that relate to sustainability. These include trust (78%), environmental friendliness (71%), ethical practices (71%), and alignment with a cause or social issue (61%).27 These data indicate that the potential influence of sustainability on millennial shopping behaviour and choices is huge. The choices of these consumers will
almost certainly be driven by necessity as climate change and other sustainability challenges intensify.28 To be credible in millennial eyes, companies need to know and execute their higher order purpose in terms of value to society. Every business can define a higher order purpose. For example, Patagonia sells outdoor clothing and gear but its whole approach revolves around sustainability. Casey Sheahan, CEO, describes Patagonia’s business model as “purpose driven.”29
Leaders best suited for sustainability organizations with global impact are “servant leaders.” As he puts it, “we are not about selling stuff, but about solving problems.” The company’s philosophy likely helps to explain sales growth of 30 percent from 2008 to 2013 despite the economic recession.30 2. Lead Differently – Leaders best suited for sustainability organizations with global impact are “servant leaders.” They focus on human relationships both inside the organization and externally with stakeholders. No
one leader has the personal capacity to develop and deliver the solutions needed in a complex world. They work through others to achieve a common mission. They create cultures based on love, not fear. As Casey Sheahan of Patagonia put it: “We are a tribe of caring people galvanized around a purpose.31”
Scaling a business before minimizing its environmental footprint would be counterproductive.
By nurturing a positive culture, a leader can more easily scale the enterprise because employees take initiative and make choices that are in alignment with the business vision. These leaders understand system dynamics. They are excellent facilitators and communicators, necessary skills for building bridges within the organization and with other players in the ecosystem. They can collaborate across for-profit and not-for-profit boundaries. 3. Eliminate Environmental Footprint – Initiatives to reduce and eliminate a company’s environmental footprint are fundamental. Life cycle analysis can identify opportunities to reduce environmental impacts associated with all the stages of a product's life from cradle-to-cradle (i.e., from raw material extraction through materials processing, manufacture, distribution, use, repair and maintenance, and recycling/reuse). Ecodesign can consider all of the environmental aspects of a new product or service at the early design stage
before the environmental impacts of a product are irretrievably locked in. Consider the supply chain too. It has been found that typically 50 percent to 70 percent of business value and carbon emissions is generated in the supply chain,32 so companies positioning for scale would do well to work for sustainability across their supply chains. Successes achieved by one company can be replicated by other companies. We have seen how a brand can be harmed by not taking into account the behaviours and policies of suppliers, the Bangladesh garment factory fire and deaths being a recent and tragic example. 4. Satisfy People’s Deepest Yearnings – New research by Havas Media Group, which surveyed 134,000 people around the world, shows that consumers would not care if 73 percent of brands disappeared.33 At the same time, consumers believe brands have the ability to play a role in improving their quality of life and wellbeing (58 percent in America agreed).34 As Amy du Pon, head of strategic planning at Havas puts it: “In an age of transparency and empowerment, brands are not meeting people's requirements. People expect large companies to be involved in social problems and their quality of life but companies are not delivering on this new social contract.”35 How can business leaders reconcile these findings and have any hope of scaling their offerings? Not surprisingly, a recent Accenture consumer survey found that only 26 percent of executives said they have a complete understanding of how consumer behaviour is changing and 40 percent said the “inherent
unpredictability of consumers is the main barrier to understanding them better.”36 Rene Lertzman, a psychosocial researcher, sheds more light on this issue: Too many companies are trying to change consumer
behaviour through persuasion, rather than trying to get to the bottom of the confusion consumers face. How do we get people to change behaviour is the wrong question. More important is how we can understand better and access levels of people's dilemmas and contradictions.37
Many companies have reached maximum efficiency but are struggling to move towards value creation.38 Richard Gillies, Director of Environmental and Social Sustainability, Marks and Spencer, has a constructive view: “Maybe business isn’t giving consumers what they really want.”39 After all, another survey found that one third of Americans are consumer activists, either boycotting or “joycotting” (the opposite of boycotting) products or services because of a company’s social or political values, so we know they care.40 The key is to listen to people far more carefully and understand market requirements far more deeply. When people feel they are being heard, they can be more honest about their desires and then business will have a better basis for delivering a value proposition that can scale. 5. Redesign Business Models – Innovation of a business model can unlock opportunities to create more value for customers and stakeholders while solving multiple sustainability
challenges. Unlocking more “shared” value can give billions of disadvantaged people a way of satisfying their needs through the market. This strategy can be the catalyst for scaling an innovative solution that cannot be delivered by conventional business models. Example - Transform a Product into a Service: A growing number of companies have discovered increased customer loyalty and superior financial returns by using a continuous customer service model. With this business model, a company provides an ongoing service for a fee rather than makes a one-off sale. An example is Interface Global, which designs, produces and sells environmentally conscious modular carpeting. Interface enters into service contracts promising that its
floorcovering will continue to meet an agreed upon quality standard. The company replaces only the carpet tiles that are worn out thus minimizing the environmental impact. Interface’s Mission Zero is a promise to eliminate any negative impact the company has on the environment by the year 2020. Example – Circular Economies: Vertical farms with closed loop systems need less energy for transportation, emit less carbon, use less water, and have more frequent crop turns than conventional farms making them a compelling business proposition. FarmedHere uses aquaponics and aeroponics to grow mostly leafy green crops under controlled conditions indoors. They achieve up to 22 crop turns a year compared to 2 or 3 crop turns for conventional farms. Their Chicago plant has a closed-loop system
circulating wastewater from fish tanks to 3000 square feet of growing beds and back again. The company also plans to anaerobically digest root waste to generate power for the growing lamps making the process more energy efficient. Total production from vertical farming is still small but there is huge potential and business justification to scale it up, especially considering that 70 percent of the global population is expected to be living in cities by 2050.41 Example - Sharing Business Model: Zipcar applied digital technologies so people can access a car at the exact moment they need it, without the burden and expense of owning it outright. The overall environmental footprint of this approach is much smaller than individual car ownership. Zipcar was so successful that Avis bought the company in 2013 and will likely scale it up.
Ecosystem Focus – Strategies to Drive Collaborative Solutions 6. Create Shared Value - Capitalism is getting a bad rap these days. But where it’s practiced with positive values, it has proven to be the most effective vehicle for human collaboration ever invented. As Professor Edward Freeman of the University of Virginia puts it: Capitalism is how we
cooperate together to create value no one of us could do alone.”42 A growing number of people are expecting more of capitalism. They expect business to create “shared value,” which is a more constructive and endearing role because all
stakeholders benefit from the business activities. No single stakeholder group gains at the expense of others. By not making trade-offs between stakeholders, it forces companies to be more creative which leads to breakthrough performance. While maximizing “shared value” takes a company closer to sustainability than maximizing “shareholder value” (which is a profit maximizing goal), some argue that it is still a limiting concept. A more progressive concept is transformation of a company’s value proposition. As Paul Polman of Unilever puts it: “The concept of shared value is good but I think it is a post-rationalization of not getting in trouble with society”.43 Even stockholders are pushing companies to look beyond just the stockholder’s perspective, some because they believe it’s the right thing to do and others because they believe it is a wise business decision for the long run. A recent study looked at the financial returns of firms that align the interests of all stakeholders in such a way that no single stakeholder group gains at the
expense of others. They found that the returns of these “firms of endearment” were over eight times greater than the returns of the Standard & Poor’s 500 over a ten year period ending June 30, 2006.44 By not trading off different stakeholder interests and by striving for win-win-win solutions, a firm invokes the power of imagination thus stimulating more innovation and value creation and the potential for scale. 7. Form Partnerships – Some of the global challenges that represent great business opportunities can only be surmounted through multi-sectoral partnerships and collaborations that include governments.45 As governments and NGOs start to think more in value terms and recognize their own limitations, their interest in collaborating with businesses will grow. A key risk of any collaboration is that no one commits to driving and leading it. Business leaders will have to gauge their own willingness to drive collaboration or risk losing the opportunity altogether. There are many forms of partnerships as shown in Figure 5.
Figure 5: Examples of Partnership46:
TYPE OF PARTNERSHIP
Where companies that otherwise compete against each other collaborate to access expertise and resources and share risks. This is also known as “coopetition.”
This has been the most common type of collaboration. It has been driven by corporate social responsibility (CSR).
Where public, private and NGO actors from a single industry partner to address common issues. This type of collaboration is becoming more common.
Multi-actor partnerships form across industry boundaries to tackle a common issue.
In some cases, it makes sense for companies to establish a joint venture to introduce a product or service into the
Ford and Toyota to develop advanced hybrid system for light trucks US Postal Service, UPS and FedEx to reduce carbon footprint The Green Grid for IT server farms Coca-Cola and World Wildlife Federation Starbucks and Conservation International Home Depot and Habitat for Humanity Sustainable Apparel Coalition Electronic Industry Citizenship Coalition The Mining Association of Canada, Towards Sustainable Mining The Plant PET Technology Collaborative Forest Stewardship Council United States Climate Action Partnership Sustainable Packaging Coalition
marketplace. In this scenario, the partners operate as a coordinated network with each company
focusing on its unique strengths. The partners move technologies and roles to those best able to implement them. For example, a large incumbent business may link with a smaller company that has a disruptive technology. Take the case of Waste Management Company. After failing to introduce a recycling program of its own, Waste Management partnered with Recyclebank to implement a highly successful recycling program in the U.S.
The combination of Waste Management’s curbside collection infrastructure, the largest in America, with Recyclebank’s online education and behavior change platform, accelerated the growth of both companies. After only one year together, 22 million residential customers gained access to the Recyclebank rewards-for-recycling program and 179 million pounds of material was recycled.47
Collaboration continues to be viewed as one of the few models that could catalyze solutions to the sustainable development challenges that we face at the speed and scale we need.48 8. Pursue Open Innovation – In a world where the challenges are complex and knowledge is widely distributed, making the boundary between a company and its operating environment more permeable can enrich the innovation process and accelerate progress. By opening up their “jewel box” of ideas and technologies, partners use their collective intelligence and knowledge to develop sustainability solutions with wide market appeal. They can build trust quickly if they have shared values and goals and they communicate openly. Take the case of AkzoNobel, a large chemical company. It has thirty supplier agreements across its value chain focused on getting more value from fewer resources.49 The company found
that progress accelerated when it shifted from a transactional, compliance-driven approach with its vendors to a collaborative approach that aims to rethink business processes from end to end. 9. Create Circular Economies – In a circular economy, products do not quickly become waste, but are reused to extract their maximum value before safely and productively returning to the biosphere. Business leaders can collaborate with each other to create circular economies that generate more value from each unit of resources used while boosting growth in a sustainable direction. With this approach, one company’s “waste” is another company’s feedstock.
Large-scale examples exist today, including anaerobic digestion of household waste and apparel recovery. One study estimates the full potential of the circular economy in consumer goods, for example, to be as much as $700 billion (US) in global materials savings alone.50 Large enterprises have the power to facilitate the redesign of entire value chains into circular economies. Over time, the market is likely to systematically reward companies with an edge in circular business practices.51 10. Find Like-Minded Investors – Sustainability companies, big or small, need to find like-minded investors who can provide the “patient capital” that is needed to introduce transformative business models. Fortunately, a growing class of investors looks for companies that create long-term value. Canada’s Social Investment Organization reports that responsible investment (RI) assets in Canada continue to climb, Figure 6: Solve for X
showing growth in virtually every major market segment and outpacing growth of total assets under management. Assets managed under sustainable and responsible investment guidelines in Canada grew by 16 percent between June 30, 2010 and December 31, 2011. By comparison, total assets under management grew by 9 percent in the same time period. RI assets now account for 20 percent of total assets under management in the financial industry, representing $600.9 billion. This investment trend bodes well for businesses that need capital to scale sustainability.52 An example of a socially responsible investment management company is Generation Investment Management LLP (GIM), a company co-founded by Al Gore, former Vice President of the U.S. At a recent conference, GIM surveyed a group of Chief Investment Officers (CIOs) on their investment planning horizons. The company found that only 20 percent of CIOs said that their investment-planning horizon was one year or more and 55 percent said it was for a calendar quarter or less, a point of view that undermines C-Suite attempts to solve society’s most difficult issues.53 More consideration needs to be given to investing for the long-term in order to manage the risk of business disruption. GIM advocates for the issuance of loyalty-driven securities that rewards investors who hold a company’s shares for a minimum number of years.
Scaling Strategies for Small Business Entrepreneurs are more apt than big business to develop the radical solutions that will solve the world’s most intractable problems. The power of entrepreneurs to solve problems is being tapped by Solve for X, which provides a forum to encourage and amplify technology-based “moonshot thinking” and collaboration. (see Figure 6).54 The forums create the conditions that bring forth the best from people collaborating and co-creating solutions for tomorrow. But taking an opportunity from concept to execution can be an enormous challenge. Entrepreneurs in the sustainability space face the same challenges as any entrepreneur but
have the additional challenge of overcoming barriers to scaling sustainability solutions. On the whole, the big business strategies for scaling a sustainability venture apply to small to medium sized enterprises as well. But, while small business has the advantages of greater flexibility and nimbleness, it generally struggles to access funding and markets as it develops its technology or solution. Scaling strategies for entrepreneurs centre on successfully navigating the technology commercialization cycle, establishing a strong organization, and getting a firm foothold in the marketplace.
Organizational Focus – Strategies to Build a Strong, Fit-for-Purpose Team For typical leaders of a sustainability business, especially if they are the founder, the personal mission and the organizational mission are integrated. Such leaders consciously shape the company’s vision, policies, and operations to address broader societal needs. Profits are not seen as the end goal but viewed as necessary to keep the business going. For them, it is critical that the mission outlives themselves. These individuals recognize that effective leadership is an “inside job,” as Casey Sheahan, CEO of Patagonia put it.55 They focus on developing their inner qualities so they can be better leaders and influencers of others. Taken together, these aspects describe a leader who is authentic and authenticity attracts the talented employees,
partners, and supporters needed to navigate the commercialization cycle. It’s noteworthy that many leaders of innovative companies in the sustainability space consciously nurture a positive team culture. Take Whole Foods Market, for example. Walter Robb, co-CEO of Whole Foods, says that when you build the culture, you build the strength and immunity of the company. Culture sustains the mission of the company; it makes it real. A healthy culture creates a virtuous circle of growth as employees are empowered to take risks and innovate. He gives the Whole Foods formula: Mission plus values practiced over time equals culture.56
Culture eats strategy for breakfast
Ecosystem Focus – Strategies to Forge Strategic Relationships Entrepreneurs in the sustainability space inevitably face decisions about when, where, why, and with whom they should do business. Forging strategic relationships with big businesses or other players is often necessary to successfully commercialize a new product or service. But SMEs have some special considerations when partnering with larger organizations:
What resources or capabilities do I need from a partner? Who are my company’s allies? Who has supported my company in the past? How should I protect my company’s intellectual property? How can I mitigate the risk of “putting all my eggs” in the bigger partner’s basket? Can I accept the risk that partnering with a big business may slow down or bog down the successful commercialization of my technology? What is the optimal coupling strength? How do I maintain flexibility? How do I avoid being “held up” by the big company? What leverage do I have?
Like any start-up, sustainability entrepreneurs must navigate the difficult technology commercialization cycle. However, a growing cadre of consumers, incumbent businesses, investor groups, NGOs and government agencies are looking for sustainability solutions and will support
and collaborate with promising new ventures. Having said this, small business owners need to be aware of the dangers and pitfalls of doing business with larger organizations – they may have different, and perhaps hidden, agendas.
Summary of Scaling Strategies Internally Focused Strategies 1. Have Higher Order Purpose – To appeal to tomorrow’s customers, companies need to deliver net positive value to society. Customers are attracted to companies with a purpose beyond maximizing profits. 2. Lead Differently – Leaders of sustainability businesses are “servant leaders” able to nurture a positive team culture, galvanize employees and partners around a noble purpose, and build bridges between people and organizations. 3. Eliminate Environmental Footprint – Pursue opportunities to eliminate environmental impacts associated with all stages of a product or service’s life span, from cradle-tocradle across the organization and supply chains.
4. Satisfy People’s Deepest Yearnings – Avoid manipulating people to buy more stuff, which feeds consumerism. Businesses that respect people as whole human beings and are able satisfy their deepest yearnings are remarkable and create a following. 5. Redesign Business Models – Innovation of business models can unlock opportunities to create more value for customers and stakeholders while solving multiple sustainability challenges. Examples are business models that transform products into a service, create circular economies, or give people platforms for action. Externally Focused Strategies 6. Create Shared Value –The more constructive and endearing role of business is to create “shared value” (versus shareholder value) that benefits all stakeholders at the same time. By not making trade-offs between stakeholders, it forces companies to be more creative which leads to breakthrough performance. 7. Form Partnerships – Some of the global challenges that represent great business opportunities can only be surmounted through multi-sectoral collaborations that include governments. Joint ventures that move technologies and roles to the partners best able to implement them can get their product to market faster. 8. Pursue Open Innovation – In a world where the challenges are complex and knowledge is widely distributed, making the boundary between a company and its environment more permeable can enrich the innovation process and accelerate progress. 9. Create Circular Economies – Drive a shift from linear “take-make-discard” economies to circular economies where products do not quickly become waste. Create circular economies, involving other entities where it makes sense, to generate more value from each unit of resources and to boost growth in a sustainable direction. 10. Find Like-Minded Investors – An unrelenting focus on short-term financial results has proven counter-productive to developing the kind of solutions needed for the world’s biggest challenges. Sustainability companies need to find like-minded investors with “patient capital.”
Change Strategy Scaling a sustainability solution can be an incredibly complex endeavor. The proponent must mobilize an array of inter-dependent ecosystem players to create a supportive environment. The process can involve the organizational world, the consumer world, the regulatory/government world, and the economic/financial world. It helps for the actors to have a change strategy as they embark on the scaling journey. A good way to start is by creating an ecosystem map of all the players and environmental conditions affecting the system. Mapping the ecosystem will help to identify the leverage points for change. Here are some questions to address:
Where in the sustainability space do we want to play? What is the make-up of the existing and of the ideal ecosystem? Who are the players? What kind of business model will be most effective in this ecosystem?
What environmental conditions need changing to accelerate adoption of our solution? Is it a regulation or policy? Is it new infrastructure? What is the role of each player in the successful commercialization of our solution? How do we make or influence the needed changes? In what order should the changes be made? In which geographic location or market should we start the journey? What are the criteria for expanding to new locations or markets?
Ultimately, a scaling strategy is a learning strategy. It is virtually impossible to anticipate all of the issues that may be encountered in the journey. It is important to learn something from each step and make adjustments when needed.
Conclusion The strategies we’ve set out offer possibilities for scaling up your sustainability enterprise. To succeed you will need to be an advocate for change both inside your organization and externally with ecosystem players. Become the Chief Evangelist for your solution. Invite the key players to the table and show the benefits for all involved. We are at a turning point. This is the time to step up, because a critical mass of players interested in collaborating for change is emerging. In the consumer realm, people are yearning for products and services that contribute to more sustainable lifestyles. They may not always be able to articulate what they want, but they will know it when the see it. More than ever before, business leaders need to communicate more deeply with citizens and collaborate with other players in the system because the solutions of the future will emerge at the intersection of the different actors in the system. The business leaders who are talking to their customers, vendors, government agencies and other players about the new opportunities are on their way to reaping the rewards while helping the world to cross the sustainability chasm. Business leaders are uniquely positioned to influence, encourage and inspire other players in the system to make enabling changes. This is not to absolve politicians from their responsibility. They need to demonstrate more leadership, in concert with business and citizen groups, to forge collaborative solutions. But with national governments pre-occupied by other priorities and lagging in sustainability performance,58 business leaders have an opportunity, if not an urgent need, to drive the transition. A big shift is underway. Society needs business to solve global challenges and new data are showing business leaders there is a business case for doing good. Scaling sustainability solutions at speed is within grasp. By moving aggressively forward on the sustainability journey you will ensure the survival of your enterprise, knit yourself into the web of the newly emerging sustainable economy, and contribute to the triple bottom line that benefits your shareholders, your stakeholders and the planet. Seize the moment – carpe diem. © 2013 The Zethof Consulting Group. All rights reserved
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A quote widely attributed to management expert Peter Drucker.
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This white paper is provided courtesy of The Zethof Consulting Group, which provides facilitation, coaching, and management consulting services for strategic change towards sustainability. The Group facilitates dynamic conversations that assess the current reality and inspire and support a shift to a desired future. The paper is intended solely as a thought leadership piece for information purposes. We encourage the reproduction and re-use of the materials contained in this white paper, as long as The Zethof Consulting Group is acknowledged as the source. To have a deeper conversation about these opportunities, contact the author: Bert Zethof firstname.lastname@example.org 250-818-3005 PO Box 48144 3511 Blanshard Street Victoria, BC Canada V8Z 7H5 © 2013 The Zethof Consulting Group. All rights reserved. Acknowledgments: Design – Mary Katharine Ross, Document Diva Editing – Ellen Godfrey Artwork – Michelle Winkel, Unfolding Solutions, http://unfoldingsolutions.ca
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This paper offers a solid framework to help leaders of big and small businesses alike to break through the obstacles to building a thriving,...