Selling SUSTAINABILITY


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Submitted by:Peachie Dioquino-Valera

 

SUSTAINABILITY. An oft-time/overused terminology thrown around within the last three decades yet never gaining its full potential in the corporate world. Why? Most likely than not, traditional corporate thinking, which sees sustainability as something that counters chance for profits, still remains.

This 2018, I believe that companies/businesses/enterprises should take heed of this S word (despite its stigmas). Because even if it seems like a utopic mission, it is now recognized as a strong market driver.

Sustainability is not just being plain Green. It’s a mindset that aims to foster growth by ensuring equal attention to the 3 Es: Environment, Equality, and Economy. That by aiming for Prosperity we do not overlook the Planet by driving our already scarce resources to the brim and disregarding the natural consequences of our greed. And that by aiming for Global Growth we do not discount human rights and workforce ideation along the way. That workers or employees are not beneath investors or stakeholders, and vice-versa. Our People engagement and management should be healthy and fair.

They say it should only take a “coupla” minutes to present to heads or decision-makers. And in that short time their after-4-minutes-of-your-presentation-disposition is made up of their biases; your persuasiveness; your messaging construction; your ability to compress massive content into, give or take, 2-3 slides; and immediate expenses that your project may entail. So how do we pitch something so complex and colossal such as Sustainability in just one go? Apologies, but I don’t have the concrete answer. It is indeed challenging eh?

However, I will offer some key points that may help along the way.

First, we have to know exactly what company, or who we are proposing to. We have to take into account what the C level peeps’ inclinations, principles, attitudes, and character are. How are they positioning their companies? Are they leaning towards the never-ending upkeep of their branding? Are they PR sensitive? Are they ready to embrace social and environmental strategies? Or is it just “money3x!” (sang to the tune of Trump’s Celebrity Apprentice)?  Because even if your presentation merits a UN award and a round of applause, if it goes against their personal strategies and obstinate mindsets, then your noteworthy suggestions end up in the Reject pile. Yes, it is painful to witness, but we should come to terms with this reality, and rework our pitch. It may even be a career-limiting move. Uh-oh, not good! If you want the company you’re working for to champion sustainability, then you must learn how to be a good salesperson.

I believe Brian Tracy (the silver fox with the dazzling smile above) when he says: “Everyone is a salesperson.” We’re being one in our everyday life! Whether you’re having a garage sale or asking your boss for a higher pay, or even when you’re pressing your toddler to eat his/her greens. It’s a constant negotiation in every form and the first question to answer is the “Why”? Why should they say Yes to whatever you’re touting? And with regards to sustainability, it’s what EVERYONE desires, but not everyone buys. Why? Due to seemingly numerous conflicts and inconveniences that that shift may inflict. Also, some heads are afraid to make that leap of faith for fear of going bankrupt during the transition stage, or simply it may cost more than its ROI. You see a huge chunk of the problem? It still weighs heavily on the Economics facet.

Let’s take a step back and see how we can scale that green wall (so to speak) despite the unconquerable “Profits” hurdle. To do this we should reframe the S word as the executives’ means (esp. if the heads are unconverted). Say that you are recommending viable strategies that can solve the company’s problems. Because that is what heads would want to hear, solutions, and not another risk nor costly endeavor to be added under their Corporate Social Responsibility to-do list. CSR in the Philippines, despite our CSR bill of 2011, is still voluntary in nature. Corporations can still dictate what type of CSR or voluntary programs they would want to implement or undergo. Unlike other countries whose government specifically mandated CSR activities that would imbibe, or contribute to, Sustainable Development. So language really matters. Remember to choose the other S word—Solutions.

How do we present Sustainability as a Strategy or Solution? I’d always like to think that businesses always ponder on how to beat their competitors. Because they are the main blockage towards one’s conquering of the market. Knowing this, you have to handpick your toughest competitors who are ahead of the Sustainability game. Tell your execs, or to business owners (if you’re pitching to them), that because their competitors advocated Sustainability, their Reputation/Brand Image went up; thus, gaining clients in the form of conscious consumers. This leading too to positive feedback (and added trust for some) from investors, bond agencies, banks, insurers, etc. Moreover, their compliance with environmental regulations reduced their business risks, and relations with regulators improved. And who wouldn’t want expedited permitting and a clean (literally and figuratively) background? Now I know we have companies here who can pay under the table to get rid of compliances and all, but if a company encounters a PR crisis by having an NGO expose their dirty unsustainable laundry, then that has an effect on their customer relations. There will be shareholder pressure especially if it’s a public company. I mean bad PR is still bad PR. Change in reputation leads to change in market value.

For the social aspect, sustainable strategic planning increased employee morale and productivity by stimulating their creative and innovative lobes. It is said that employee engagement and satisfaction also increases when they know they are working for a noble cause.

See what we did there? Not only did we share a strategy for increasing revenue, but we hit other corporate priorities as well. Plus, we opened the scenery wherein we might possibly face a series of problems if we don’t join the Sustainable bandwagon.

We have to change the paradigm of traditionalist CEOs and remove from them the age-old economic dogma that because they are making money and contributing to the economy, and providing consumer needs and employment, then they are socially responsible already. We have to make them want to be ethical.  Come to think of it, in 20 or 30 years time —with the rate we’re going in terms of overpopulation and consumption—our laws and regulations may be different and stricter. What you want is not just meeting the latest standards, but preventing pollution in the first place. This is why we are now big in terms such as Circular Economy or cradle-to grave systems or waste out/waste-to-energy, and so on and so forth. It struck us that this is where we’re going to. And you want to be ahead of that curve. Because the reality is, the coalition of corporate greed, politicians’ greed, and consumers’ greed are all going to do us in in the end. And if we do not change the story then I am afraid we all know the grim ending.

Say you were able to convince your company’s decision-makers, one thing you must never forget is to do your homework. Sustainability is not just going green. It’s about sustaining the equilibrium where the forces of Economy, Social Equality, and Ecology belong to. If you want to make the Triple Bottom Line your accounting framework (or even the Quadruple Bottom Line assessment if you’re ambitious) then, by all means, aim for that. Else, you might be just like most companies jumping on the bandwagon for the sake of it, then end up greenwashing (or bluewashing- to represent UN’s colors) your products and processes. Because green businesses are already considerably big and advanced, a lot of companies join the bandwagon recklessly. It’s either they label themselves as green but behind the scenes, they are anything but. Or the heads or owners listened to some consultant who fooled them into believing their business settings are already sustainable, but one of its components fares low in the sustainability standards. We will just be putting the works of Brundtland Report, the entity who coined Sustainable Development, into shame. The sustainability proposal might even be harmful so this is why coming up with a sound and legit SD game plan for your CR is a must.

Portrait of a boy with the map of the world painted on his face.

Configuring Sustainable Development into your company is a daunting optional task; but morally, ethically, and socially needed. I will have to do more research to create a book that’ll show the ideal boardroom buy-in but as of now, I hope the points mentioned can help get your foot out of the door. Or if you’re the decision-maker, help position your conscience alongside your prosperity goals. The key here aside from learning sustainability is to acknowledge blended responsibilities. Companies cannot assume that donations to NGOs and paying taxes will cover for their social license or carbon offsetting; and on the other hand, NGOs and the public sector cannot assume that socio-civic duties can cover for business plans or economic value.

The secret? It is in the balancing act.



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