Book review: Strategy for Sustainability

Harvard Business Press ($25)

Contrary to what consultants love to tell us, you don't actually have to lose sight of the shore to discover new lands.

Just book yourself a Sunday afternoon cruise on the Hamilton Harbour Queen. The captain and crew do a great job in welcoming you aboard and offer a running commentary on Hamilton Harbour's past, present and future.

About halfway into your cruise, you'll hear the perfect pickup line for an image-conscious city that's forever searching for a better way to sell itself to strangers. You'll learn that Hamilton is home to North America's largest inland harbour. Now, there's something to actually brag about and build a brand around.

And it gets better. If we do our homework and stay focused on the big picture, our city's best asset could also be Hamilton's sustainability showcase to the world. All the key components of sustainability — economic, environmental, social and cultural — are already in play all along 45 kilometres of shoreline.

There's a pretty cool mash-up of residential and recreational, industrial and commercial uses happening at the harbour. And from the upper deck of the Harbour Queen it's easy to imagine what's possible. An outdoor amphitheatre, bandshell and skating rink. A field of cricket pitches. Bicycle, canoe and kayak rentals. An outdoor farmers' market. Mixed housing, a cluster of cafes and restaurants and a hotbed of small businesses with an entrepreneurial flair. And underpinning it all would be sustainable, job-creating industries contributing to and benefiting from the economic, environmental and social health of the harbour.

So if we get it right, everyone driving over the Skyway will look over and see a harbour and a community that's internationally recognized and celebrated as a leader in sustainability.

The timing couldn't be better. Smart businesses, organizations and communities are realizing sustainability is the only sure bet for thriving in perpetuity in a fast-changing world, says author Adam Werbach, Global CEO of Saatchi and Saatchi S (CCT) and a former president with the Sierra Club.

"Sustainability is bigger than a public relations stunt, bigger than a green product line, bigger even than a heartfelt but part-time nod to ongoing efforts to save the planet," says Werback. "Imagined and implemented fully, sustainability drives a bottom-line strategy to save costs, a top-line strategy to reach a new consumer base, and a talent strategy to get, keep and develop employees, customers and your community."

Werbach's come up with a framework to help organizations develop and implement sustainability strategies. It starts with STaR mapping, a quick and dirty analysis of societal, technological and resource trends and changes that could help or hurt your organization. Do you know what's going on in the world outside your walls, what's on the horizon and whether you're ready, willing and able to seize the opportunities?

Drawing on your analysis, you then set what Werbach calls a North Star goal. Make your goal big, bold and overarching. Play to your organization's strengths and link directly back to your core mission and reason for being. Set an ambitious, inspirational and achievable goal that everyone in your organization will believe in, contribute to and help make happen within the next five to 15 years.

With your analysis done and your North Star goal set, it's now time to get your organization's TEN cycle firing on all cylinders. For a sustainability strategy to succeed, Werbach says you'll need to commit to complete transparency of information and communications, earn the full engagement of staff and management and build a stronger and ever-growing network of internal champions and external partners.

"Sustainability provides a fresh conversation for soliciting employee input, unleashing employee creativity, surfacing and recognizing leadership talent and driving innovation — all of which further engage employees."

Werbach highlights the work Wal-Mart is doing around sustainability. The company's set North Star goals of producing zero waste and running on 100 per cent renewable energy.

To make sustainability real and relevant to its two million associates, Wal-Mart introduced the personal sustainability project.

The voluntary project encourages associates to adopt repeatable, enjoyable, small-scale nano-practices that support and advance a culture of sustainability. Day-long workshops for associates and managers from every store offered primers on sustainability, grassroots enrolment techniques and a whole lot of inspiration. Within six months, the personal sustainability project spread to more than 4,500 stores across the United States, with more than 500,000 staff adopting and following through personal sustainability practices at work and at home.

"Small steps matter," says Werbach. "Instead of focusing solely on the game-changing win, the small steps prepare your organization for the turbulence facing our world. When a situation seems too complicated to grasp, grasping it isn't always entirely necessary or even possible — so do what you can, when you can. Act now."

You can act now and take the first step by reading Werbach's book and spending a Sunday afternoon cruising around Hamilton Harbour.

Published by

Jay Robb

I've reviewed more than 500 business books for the Hamilton Spectator since 1999 and worked in public relations since 1993.

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