successfully implemented, is more difficult. Most
managers continue to believe, “Sustainability is
great, but it’s someone else’s job, and I have more important things to do.” This is a huge hurdle, because
to effectively implement a sustainable business
model, every employee must play his or her part.
A savvy balance of rigidity and flexibility helps integrate sustainability into everyone’s job. At Unilever,
top management sets the overall company targets,
but specific implementation is left to individual departments and business units. Food waste is a good
example. Top management can set a goal to reduce
food waste by 20% or 30%. But that has to be translated to which crop and where, in which country, and
how. In some countries, the source of food waste is in
the fields; in others, food waste results from the retailing and distribution system. Implementation of a
general strategy requires granular, tactical execution.
The following examples show what different
departments can do to drive sustainability through
• Procurement Securing supply-chain security,
sourcing sustainably by training, developing relationships with suppliers, and cutting waste in
supply chains are ways in which a sustainable business model can be implemented in the procurement
function. A key success factor here is to train the
procurement team on material sustainability issues
to allow informed conversations with suppliers.
IBM, for example, told its suppliers to meet eight
requirements (including CO² emissions reduction,
waste recycling, and energy consumption) and
show evidence by publicly disclosing the results.
However, the company was not heavy-handed and
prescriptive; it circulated a letter from the chief
procurement officer stating the direction in which
the company was headed and let the procurement
team help suppliers reach their goals.
• Marketing Promoting the environmental and
social benefits of a product, urging responsible con-
sumption and proper disposal, and working closely
with innovation and R&D on developing sustainable
products are all in the realm of marketing. For exam-
ple, Unilever uses its marketing prowess to imbue a
social purpose to each of its brands (such as Dove,
Lifebuoy, Knorr, and Vaseline). Brand managers are
asked to look at the environmental and social impact
of brands and come up with “brand purpose state-
ments.” As part of its advanced marketing and sales
program, Nestle SA has a session on creating shared
value for external stakeholders as well as the com-
pany, and about 700 managers have gone through
this program in the last three years.
• Innovation and R&D For sustainability to be
seen as an integral part of business strategy and not
just a cost-cutting exercise, the case for sustainable
innovation needs to be made. Today, companies
have the ability to access proper tools to evaluate
environmental sustainability, and tools for nutrition and social aspects are being developed.
Sustainability assessment (using eco-efficiency and
life-cycle analysis) is mandatory at some leading
companies for every project before it goes to development. At Unilever, managers are charged with
looking at consumers’ environmental and social
needs during product development. For example,
when developing products for markets that tend to
be water-stressed, managers not only worry about
reducing water footprint in their own manufacturing but also think about ways to reduce water usage
at the consumer end. This has led to developing
and marketing soaps that don’t use water at all, as
well as soaps that turn green in the hand-washing
process to signal to children in disease-prone areas
that they have washed their hands long enough.
• Finance and investor relations More than their
counterparts in other functions, finance executives
cite a number of barriers to increased involvement in
sustainability, including a lack of decision-making
frameworks that take environmental and social
factors into account. However, companies leading
in this area, such as The Dow Chemical Co.,
Most managers continue to believe, ‘Sustainability is great,
but it’s someone else’s job, and I have more important things
to do.’ This is a huge hurdle.