Once upon a time there were three little pigs. The time came for them to leave home and seek their fortunes. Before they left, their mother told them:
“Whatever you do, do it the best that you can because that’s the way to get along in the world.”
The first pig started a business that built houses out of straw.
The second pig created a business that built houses out of sticks.
The third pig started a business that built houses out of bricks.
The second year was a struggle for the first pig. The straw was not very abundant this year, due mainly to water shortage. The pig thought they needed to look at how to incorporate water management into their sourcing, but didn’t know where to start. There were so many options.
The second pig was enjoying a growing and profitable business. One day the Sales Manager presented some findings that customers were being increasingly concerned about deforestation and workers’ rights. The business decided to hire a Sustainability Manager and they would source sustainable timber that still enabled the quality of wood they needed. However, the Sustainability Manger struggled with finding out where all their wood came from and with quantifying this change of direction. At the same time, the Sourcing team struggled with incorporating the sustainability targets the company did set with other targets they had.
The third pig was also running a profitable business, but she started to realise how environmental and socio-economic impacts & risks could affect her business. She was especially concerned about how water shortage could impact production of new bricks, as well as the impact on the local community and environment. She knew how important water was to her mother’s farm. She was also wondering how they could improve workers’ health and well being. Could there also be opportunities from looking at the business from a sustainability point of view, she wondered? Maybe there was a case for cost savings from better water management and new sustainable products that could open up new markets.
The company decided to review their business strategy and especially look at watershed management, workers’ well being and new products with a focus on sustainability, such as bricks made out of denim by-product. The business managed to become more profitable with the new products, but was still struggling to design existing products more sustainably.
They asked for suggestions from their employees and sought further feedback from their customers and suppliers. They looked at SDGs, CDP, GRI, water footprint, water credits… the list seemed endless and they weren’t sure where to get involved.
Meanwhile, the first pig decided to ask for help from the second and the third pig. He also suggested that they collaborated with other businesses in the construction industry, as well as with governments and NGOs. Some of these were from other kingdoms far away. They even started working with human consultants.
They discovered that they couldn’t build sustainable businesses on their own. Collaboration with others was vital. They also realised that they needed to clearly set out what was important to their businesses and how to get there with short-term milestones as well as long-term goals. They started building the knowledge within their teams and engaging their suppliers as part of their sustainability journeys. Their route to creating long term, sustainable businesses became clearer.
What is important for a straw fabrication company is very different from one that constructs with sticks or bricks. Once they each understood what was key to their proposition and supply, they were able to clearly communicate what was unique about their business and stand out as each little piggy went to market. Their mother was very proud of them.
How do you embed sustainability?
We at Global Bright Futures believe in embedding sustainability into businesses, but what if you’re a company that is starting your sustainability journey and struggling to decide what options are for you? What if you are a business that is on your way, but struggling with sourcing as well as quantifying sustainability, or with moving on from a few sustainability products to really scaling it up?
There is no one model that will fit every business. Things that worked for the third pig will not necessarily work for the first and second pig. So what does work?
- Having the right knowledge and resources are important, as is commitment from senior management, CEOs and CFOs. Do you have the right resources in house or do you need to outsource? Are you partnering with the right people? Does the CFO have the right data to create a business case? Is the senior management informed, engaged and supported?
- Employees also have a key role to play. They are the ones that have to deliver against any targets. What do they need in terms of training and support? Are they able to communicate to stakeholders in a way that matters? Are they able to ask for the right information from suppliers and are they able to engage and support suppliers when it comes to achieving your sustainability objectives?
- Another important factor is using the measurements and communication that are right for your business. Can you identify your material impacts and key risks? Are you able to ask for the right data and use that data to create meaningful analysis and stories?
Embedding sustainability creates value to your business and understanding how to do this is a step on the journey.