Sustainable Business?! Yeah, but... where do I start?
Updated: Apr 14, 2019
Discussion is boiling around sustainability. Climate change, renewables, women’s empowerment and more. Perhaps it is simply because I work with this, or there is really a bigger call happening. What I notice nonetheless, is the unbalanced level of understanding, the incompatibility between behaviour and expressed ideas and the feeling of being stuck. This is not to criticise anyone; I feel and carry these same hassles inside myself.
It is very strenuous to fix the puzzlement these topics are generating. Especially because they are immensely connected with paradigms and distorted views from the past. It is challenging to imagine a future without the eases, luxuries and convenience our society has created, which are a vast part of the problem. It is also very grim to gauge impact and set priorities. To make it further convoluted, there are hundreds of frameworks, certifications and processes to consider, if you have a business and would like to pursue a more sustainable purpose and operation. I have, to setup the methods offered by my consultancy, struggled with these same questions. Sometimes I had to immerse myself in the behaviour and actions I am raising to businesses. For example, I had gone through and wide-ranging drill of sorting and reducing my wardrobe to make it more sustainable, before I felt I could suggest strategies to fashion companies. When the topic is strategic thinking and action-plan building, I studied dozens of frameworks and experienced quite a few before I could elect what to use. This takes loads of work, countless hours and requires deep knowledge of the subject matter. I finally outlined customary steps I suggest to and apply with my customers.
1. Learn and practice the art of imagining.
Human beings have the most highly developed cognitive capabilities on the planet, yet we mostly do business in programmed and analytical ways. We have forgotten half of our brain back in childhood (or somewhere else we cannot even remember). In general, business adults do not use imagination, visualisation or even storytelling to express their ideas personally or to others. Show me anything man-made that exists in the world, that has not been originally created inside someone’s cognisance. There is nothing. We know that and still when we are asked to close our eyes and picture a greener future, a brighter world or a sustainable answer, we jam ourselves with barriers, criticism and fears of looking foolish. If we cannot even envisage that there are enhanced ways to do our business, if we are not capable to acknowledge to ourselves that we could explore distinctive, more sustainable options, we cannot make them happen. And if you can, you need to demonstrate it to yourself and to others with clarity. Start by conceiving. Create your fanciful possibility in your mind before you declare your more tangible one.
2. Get to know your current state and commit to the change.
If you are trying to improve or to change, it is imperative you start with awareness. If you are on a personal development journey, the first step to evolve is to get to know yourself. If you are an athlete, you need to know where you stand, your current time or how you score, in order to create a plan, work-out and improve.
It is the same if you want to build a sustainable business. You must gain awareness of your "As-Is" situation, generate data about your current state and build up a baseline. You may already be engaged, but you don't recognise what's missing. If you are in early stages, you may need to actually learn what negative impacts you're causing and where your biggest opportunities lie. It is also important that you acknowledge which gains your current strategy is bringing you as much as the pains it is causing.
Once awareness is present, you must realise that in order to amend your business, transformation from within or at the company’s leadership is a prerequisite. At the same time, you should not ignore the already existing brilliant ideas hidden inside your organisation that simply have not found a way to surface.
Commitment will come if you have created a vision, but will only become real if you know who and where you are and if you are open to change and are willing to listen to others.
3. Alone, you will die.
Many business people do not like to expose themselves through debates about their strategies, weaknesses or challenges. Guess what? Either you accept vulnerability and open up to bring in aid or you will perish. Or at least the idea of a more sustainable business will. You will have the need to learn and listen from experts, consultants, partners, etc. Minimally, you must involve your own team, suppliers, collaborators. There is no magic-bean or solutions one-size-fits-all in sustainable business. There are certain essentials you can simply copy-paste, but most of the remarkable work will come from collaboration and teamwork.
Many companies do not like to work with consultants, think that experts are too academic or are not connected to reality. But innovation and forward thinking do not happen in such companies. In addition, you may enroll people who think differently than you to craft fresh, superior ways. Like-minded groups sound great, but if everyone always concurs, nothing extraordinary will ever arise. I also suggest a leader, although you may want to work on a more participative model, flat and inclusive. This will depend on the maturity level your project will be immersed in.
4. A method, yes, a method.
I judge it is always worth to structure your projects. For sensible, practical and pragmatic reasons, as well as for purposes of communication. Participants must be able to read "the map" or soon they will be lost. Therefore, you will need to use "a map", a methodology that suits your business and objectives well.
There are many available, as previously stated. I recommend The Natural Step® as your basic frame. You may need, depending on the WHATs and HOWs you will uncover, different tools, various frameworks, systems, calculations. For a holistic and strategic approach, the 4 system conditions imbedded in the TNS® approach are very effective. The process it follows, especially if you use the tools from Future Fit Business Benchmarking® make it logical.
These approaches embrace simplicity, so if your case is straightforward and/or your business is small, this is the less complicated way to start that I know.
5. Be bold and make mistakes.
After you have your ideas, and the means to realize them, it will help if you are open to failure. We learn from failure! Someone may have told you that before or you may have seen this assertion other times. Saying it is easier than doing it or letting it happen. If one cannot fail, one cannot succeed in long term. Alongside your project some events will go well, some won’t. Accept that and keep moving. In particular concerning sustainability, there are a lot of unknowns, much is evolving and everything is mutable. If you are not convinced of this idea, you can explore this other one: if you do not change for better, you will fail, sooner or later.
I use unusual techniques in projects I engage with. I attempt to broaden the minds of the people I work with, because my mission is to empower them. In turn, I get my mind constantly challenged. I fail and I learn, hence I can succeed. Diversity in teamwork is fuel, but it is awkward to deal with, change from within is a nice concept but can bring painful moments.
Solutions may come from unexpected places. For me reward comes, when we face those ambiguities and we thrive. That is what makes me get into action, even when I do not know exactly how to start. Making mistakes becomes part of the process.