ENP workshop shows how sustainability strategies save money and grow revenues for both multinationals and startups

Past Tides
September 14, 2017 By Wendy Wolfson

According to panelists at the August 4 Executive Next Practices “Sustainability Forum—Strategies for ROI,” sustainability initiatives can create new efficiencies in your business, save money, reduce employee injuries, save energy—in short, make both business and economic sense. Scott Hamilton, ENP CEO and April Economides from collaborating Cove organization SustainOC, introduced sustainability officers from a range of industries.

Sustainability practices can benefit a business by improving the brand, reducing costs, attracting good talent, reducing waste and boosting energy efficiency. However, inducing thousands of employees to change habits means pulling people from their comfort zone. “Education, education, education,” said Naderehan Afsharmanesh, vice president of sustainability at Earth Friendly Products.

Diane Biagianti, vice president and chief responsibility officer at Edwards LifeSciences, LLC., recently returned from a global road trip unrolling sustainability initiatives at Edwards Lifesciences. Biagianti focuses on communicating the business benefits, as people still think of sustainability as philanthropy. “The bigger picture, is about changing the culture and the mindset of the people in the organization,” said Biagianti, “It is a journey. Get as much buy in as you can. So much of what you deal with touches different functional groups.”

Allergan, a $50 billion company that operates in 100 countries and a member of the Dow Jones sustainability index, is focusing its current sustainability initiatives on access to medicine and pricing. According to Sulaiman Hamadi, director, sustainability and product stewardship at Allergan, increasing efficiencies in the value chain is saving Allergan $10 million annually by reducing energy, waste, and water inputs as well as preventing employee injuries. Other important priorities include increasing sustainability in the supply chain and corporate governance. Hamadi reports the company met its 2016 health and safety performance objectives by lowering their employee injury rates through identifying hazards, having weekly management walk-throughs, and by encouraging leadership engagement. Allergan projects that it will save $8 million a year on energy by 2020.

“Most things that have helped are communication,” said Hamadi. “Seventy percent of the ideas we have had that are really tremendous come from engagement with our employees.” Hamadi prioritized the strategic steps businesses can take to increase sustainable practices:

1. Raise the profile of sustainability initiatives through internal communications,
2. Enact social initiatives within the community to incentivize efforts,
3. Find a champion who can take responsibility for driving ownership and goals and can lead a team,
4. Develop an implementation team,
5. Establish metrics as core values,
6. Use technology drive efficiencies.

Molly Ray, national environmental solutions manager sales lead for GreenerOffice™ Solutions at Office Depot, commented that sustainability numbers are not always black and white, and sometimes it takes time to see results. Office Depot sells 28% green products. To implement the overall sustainability vision, it is important to create a laundry list of the steps that need to take place, what critical players are needed to lead implementation, and the metrics for measuring how you will know that people are ‘contributing and winning.’

To know how your sustainability practices impact customer and suppliers, Ray advised the following steps:

1. Identify your team,
2. Develop messaging,
3. Solicit buy in from staff using surveys,
4. Invite accountability from everybody,
5. Ask, what are your areas of negative impact and what do you need to do to convert them to                                opportunities?
6. Create incentives and awards programs to promote the cause.

Ray said that she “shouts out” to people on Slack and rewards them when they recycle.

Audience members grouped by tables discussed some of the following questions:

How sustainability strategies can improve the relationship with customers and create more value for them. A perceived risk of a sustainability initiative is that it could initially create more expense in the supply chain as suppliers may need to retool.

How to mitigate short term investments in the supply chain by suppliers. Think about either mandating sustainability strategies through suppliers or making partnerships. However, suppliers might balk at any extra start-up costs.

How does can sustainability affect the user experience. Innovations are only as sustainable as their context, for example, electric vehicles are only as green as the grid they are tied to and require partnership with customers to work.

The discussion was followed by a presentation from Bottle Rocket, a startup in the Wayfinder program at the Cove. According to Manisha Priyadarshini, Bottle Rocket’s web developer intern, recycling has not changed since the nineties. Bottle Rocket is the first on-demand recycling service that rewards you for recycling from home. The company brings participating households drop off bins, then picks them up when full. Regarding entrepreneurial sustainability, Bottle Rocket just saved 5000 pounds of carbon emissions in July. Currently, 1,200 families are participating in the company’s soft launch. “We are a triple bottom line company, meaning we can be profitable, give back to the community, and promote a sustainable mission all at once,” said Priyadarshini. “You recycle, we pay, and earth wins.”