Building a Business Case for Sustainability

August 8, 2014

Lisa Owen, VP of Sales and Marketing

Why do some companies “walk the walk” when it comes to sustainability while others seem to merely be talking the talk?

A recent study from MIT Sloan Management Review and The Boston Consulting Group seeks to shed light on how businesses address their sustainability challenges and why some are more successful than others. By analyzing responses from 1,847 participants from commercial enterprises, the five years of survey data revealed that a majority of organizations are struggling to move forward.

According to the study, “the percentage of companies that have tried but failed to build a business case has increased from 8 percent to 20 percent, and more than half of the respondents have either failed to establish a business case or haven’t even tried to create one.”

Furthermore, when looking at sustainability success stories, the report examines the correlation between placing emphasis on sustainability issues and actually implementing change. The study says, “Companies that perceive sustainability issues as significant and thoroughly address them share distinct characteristics.” These companies focus heavily on five business fronts: sustainability strategy, business case, measurement, business model innovation and leadership commitment.

In terms of one of the focus areas—business case—the discrepancy is telling; almost 70 percent of the companies that are making headway in sustainable practices have developed a sustainability business case, compared to only 37 percent of all respondents. A business case provides the necessary justification for changing a current product or practice, and it typically stems from one of three situations: an opportunity that will benefit the company, a required compliance change or a need to correct a problem or “right a wrong.”

Using industry knowledge and repeatable data, good business partners are able to communicate the value of the products or services they supply to their customers and help make a strong business case. At RSC Bio Solutions, that’s what we do to help customers make the switch to readily biodegradable products. For example, a value analysis document demonstrates the estimated cost savings and shows how the sustainable initiative (in this case employing a readily biodegradable solution over a petroleum based hydraulic fluid) adds value to the company’s bottom line. This type of analysis provides evidence that addressing sustainability and being financially responsible don’t have to be separate goals.

A strong business case can help decision-makers transition from just stating the importance of sustainability to actually demonstrating it to employees, stakeholders and the community.

How are you making a business case to address sustainability issues? What roadblocks have you faced and how are you overcoming them?

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