Are HBR and McKinsey Right?

Is Sustainability Gaining Momentum in Your Industry? 

Last month Harvard Business Review (HBR) and McKinsey Quarterly both published substantial articles on sustainability. McKinsey’s, The Business of Sustainability: McKinsey Global Survey results, shares highlights of the results from their recent survey that explored how and why companies are addressing sustainability today and over the next five years. HBR’s , The Big Idea:  The Sustainable Economy suggests that with developments in three areas, it is inevitable that “successful business will become synonymous with sustainable business.” It appears that it is no longer of question of if, but when.

Do you know the answer? My client didn’t, so they took the question to their Advisory Board members to find out! 

My client knew their industry was being impacted by environmental concerns. They knew some regulations were already in place and that some companies were already operating with some type of environmental policy. They knew they needed to stay ahead of their customers, but what they didn’t know was how far ahead they needed to be. They did not know what their own top customers (their Advisory Board members) were thinking in regard to sustainability. corporate sustainabilityWas it a strategic initiative for the current year or have they not yet begun thinking about it? Where are they in writing policies? Where are they in implementing initiatives? How are their policies impacting procurement?

My client wanted to understand just how quickly they needed to make sustainability a strategic initiative within their own organization. If their customers were moving “full-steam ahead,” perhaps they need all hands on-deck to move forward as quickly as possible. If their customers had plans to include it in their RFPs next year, my client needs to be ready to respond. If their customers are already evaluating vendors based on their carbon footprint, perhaps my client needs to promote themselves differently. And what about marketing? Are their customers aware of their efforts to improve energy productivity? Are they aware of their recent awards?  Could their own initiatives be a differentiator? If so, perhaps my client needs to enhance their marketing strategies to include an emphasis on sustainability.

My client got some answers that day. They learned what their top customers were thinking and doing about sustainability. They learned that their customers are in various implementation stages and that some regions of the globe are moving much more slowly than others. They learned that their own initiatives could be a differentiator and that their own strategies need to be somewhat revised. More importantly, they learned just how far ahead of their customers they need to be!  

So I ask you… are HBR and McKinsey right? Assuming they are, just how soon will “successful business become synonymous with sustainable business?” How quickly are your customers moving in that direction? If you don’t know, you need to be asking!

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