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This just in: Nearly 80 percent of global CEOs affirmed in a recent survey that sustainability has become a part of corporate operations (survey conducted by Accenture and the United Nations Global Compact of 800 global CEOs).
This is great news! As sustainability continues to move mainstream, there should be plenty of new clients crawling out of the FSC-certified woodwork in the coming years.
But that doesn’t mean that getting work is going to be easy. According to a different survey done in partnership with the MIT Sloan School of Management and the Boston Consulting Group just last year, many companies had “not developed a business case for sustainability” and are investing many of their sustainability dollars in maintaining regulatory compliance.
What? That doesn’t make sense, does it?
It sort of does from a business-logic perspective. First, basic environmental protection laws help ensure regulators are pushing companies to clean up or be fined. Second, PR and marketing teams are spending sustainability dollars, as “going green” can help increase sales and reputational value. Then, as some efficiency cost-savings become apparent, the operations team moves in. These elements separately can all be counted toward “sustainability investment,” but that doesn’t mean the company is strategically tackling its move into sustainability by developing a true “business case.”
Why not? According to Gil Friend, founder and CEO of Natural Logic, most people are still “seeing ‘sustainability’ only as a cost, not an investment.” So, naturally they are only doing the obvious low-cost, high return on investment (ROI) sustainability things. This can be especially true for small- to medium-sized enterprises without any real knowledge of sustainability or the resources to tackle the issue strategically (i.e. your potential clients. Hint, hint.).
So the path is clear. Now that you know everything there is to know (See Part 1) about your prospective client, it’s time to develop a tailored “business case for sustainability” that will help you win business by opening client’s eyes to the opportunity that a real sustainability strategy provides.
In Part 3 of this series, we discuss how to communicate the business case to your prospective client in terms that they will understand (read: shareholder value), but for now let’s just find the business case.
Don’t even think about hugging trees or saving rainforests. According to David Bent, head of business strategies at Forum for the Future, a nonprofit sustainable development organization based in the UK, “the ‘societal case’ does not automatically make a business case.” Yes, there is a lot of societal pressure to address social and environmental problems, but that doesn’t mean that the societal case is going to sell sustainability to a client. Generally, you should focus on what will help the client be a better, more profitable business, and present the societal and environmental benefits as icing on the sustainability cake (unless you’re really lucky and land a socially conscious client!).
Use what you know about the prospective client and pick what you think the strongest business case or cases are. The best news here is that the Forum for the Future has done the hard work for us. In early January, the organization created a table combining key elements of the most commonly used business cases for sustainability. The table, called Pathways to Value, will help you identify how to make direct links between the business strategy of the prospective client and sustainability initiative that will tie in with the client’s strategic goals. To access the chart, click here or type in http://www.forumforthefuture.org/projects/pathways-to-value.
For example, if your prospective client is in a highly regulated industry, like mining, and you learned from research that they’ve just won a contract to open a mine in an area with a large Native American population, they would have a high risk of damaging their reputation, high regulatory costs, and concerns about the license to operate. Hence, you should focus your sustainability pitch heavily on “risk reduction” elements. Yes, the company may also benefit from staff motivation and retention programs, but the biggest payoff in investing in sustainability is probably the area with the strongest business case. And the strongest business case is going to be most interesting to the client; therefore, you should concentrate your pitch on that business case.
By pitching the right product to the client, you will probably have a better chance of earning their business (and, hopefully, when your programs maximize ROI, you’ll look like a genius).
Once you have identified the key business case or cases, it is time to prepare your presentation. In order to make sure you get the most out of every minute of face time, make sure you are speaking to your client in a language that he or she understands. For more about being on the same page, check out Growing your sustainability consultancy business, Part 3: Speak your client’s language.
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