Walking the Talk
Why Aren’t Companies Making Faster Progress on Sustainability?

Whether you're unsure how to find the right path, think you've done enough, or are just need help to go further — it’s become clear to us that sustainability executives and their C-Suite colleagues need more assistance with understanding and connecting all the dots.

Becoming a truly sustainable brand is not easy. The path to “Mount Sustainability,” as Ray Anderson famously called it, tends to be long, winding, messy and even discontinuous at times. Along the way, progress can easily stall or plateau — and it often does, for a variety of reasons.

After talking to hundreds of business leaders within the global Sustainable Brands™ community to investigate why they aren’t making faster progress on sustainability, we found the vast majority of them fall into one of these three groups:

(1) companies that are confident of their way forward in concept but are unsure how to proceed in practice, due to confusion around potential solution providers and partners to choose from;

(2) companies that are NOT confident they know what next steps should look like, having trouble committing to a course of action or feeling ‘lost in translation’ somewhere along the way; and, my favorite camp,

(3) companies that think they are doing enough, either blissfully unaware that they haven’t ‘arrived’ yet or unwilling to ‘go all the way’ to begin with.

At their core, all three reflect fundamental problems of orientation and navigation. Whether the problem is not knowing how to find the right path, thinking you are at the destination when the path continues further; or missing the right equipment to go forward, even though you see where the path is going — it’s become clear to us that sustainability executives and their C-Suite colleagues need more assistance with understanding and connecting all the dots.

That is why the Content Council of the Sustainable Brands Advisory Board — which features execs from Iron Mountain, Danone, Procter & Gamble, Campbell Soup Company, World Resources Institute, Oxfam, Valutus and Natural Logic, among others — pulled together its collective wisdom, as well as research insights from a number of other thought leaders, to create a comprehensive new orientation and navigation tool: The SB Brand Transformation Roadmap.

Think of it as a friendly guide that lays out the entire sustainability journey and allows any company to assess the maturity of its efforts in five critical practice areas — Purpose, Brand Influence, Operations & Supply Chain, Products & Services and Governance. With its intentionally accessible vocabulary, it can serve both as an on-ramp to early-stage practitioners, and as a North Star to intermediate and advanced practitioners.

Furthermore, it comes with a self-assessment test that assigns a score between Level 1: Conventional Business and Level 5: Sustainable Brand in each of the five areas. The main idea is to help executives put their current sustainability efforts in context of the whole picture, understand where they are, learn how to set smarter goals; and from there, engage key stakeholders and find the right collaborators in order to reach new levels of environmental and social innovation.

“For the first time, we have a roadmap that demonstrates what happens holistically in each chapter of a company’s sustainability journey,” states Kevin Hagen, VP of Environment, Social & Governance Strategy at Iron Mountain. “It allows you to plot where your company is today and plan a faster path to the next phase while maximizing the benefits right where you are.”

At this point, you might be asking, “So, what exactly is a ‘sustainable brand,’ then? How would we know one if we saw one?” After boiling down the best existing thinking to a practical formulation, we found that it essentially comes down to satisfying five key characteristics, one for each of the five practice areas mentioned above. Thus, in short, a sustainable brand is one that:

  • Has a clearly defined, articulated and embedded positive environmental or social purpose.

  • Leverages the power of its brand influence to drive a systemic shift toward a sustainable world through its interactions with all stakeholders.

  • Operates in a way that ensures the health, resilience and flourishing of society and the environment.

  • Delivers products and services that result in sustainable outcomes across the whole value chain.

  • Demonstrates continuous strong commitment to transparency, integrity and leadership in governance.

Needless to say, there is a lot of detail and nuance behind each of these high-level statements, and that is exactly where the meat of the Roadmap kicks in — giving not only a detailed view of the aspirational destination, but, more importantly, painting a user-friendly picture of the whole journey in all five areas. Along the way, it also connects and systematizes many of the most helpful existing tools and frameworks out there — in the spirit of an all-encompassing meta tool, all in an effort to enable faster win-win progress for everyone in the global Sustainable Brands community.

“We believe the SB Brand Transformation Roadmap has the potential to become an invaluable tool and the main portal that companies and individual brands will use to establish and build on their sustainability ambitions and strategies over time,” says KoAnn Vikoren Skrzyniarz, CEO and founder of Sustainable Brands. “I’m beyond delighted with the response we’ve received so far from Fortune 100 companies who are seeing tremendous value in the Roadmap.”

A number of Sustainable Brands Corporate Members have already begun using the assessment. Jim Sullivan, VP of Sustainability and Strategy at SAP, calls it "a very useful approach for internal steering and benchmarking conversations, and we look forward to sharing further results of real-world road testing."

And Virginie Helias, VP for Global Sustainability at Procter & Gamble, says, “The SB Brand Transformation Roadmap will allow our brands to assess where they are along their sustainability journey and where we can make advancements. It is a holistic tool that looks at all aspects of driving positive impact on society and organizing for it.”

Should you want to explore further, we invite you to attend The SB Brand Transformation Roadmap℠ workshop — along with ensuing sessions to help you dive deeper, no matter where you are on the journey — at SB’19 Detroit, June 3-6.

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