Binomial Innovates -
Binomial is an innovation consulting firm helping clients be disruption-ready
September 29, 2021
Co-authored by Dr Lena Ramfelt and Tay Kae Fong
This is part 1 of a two-part series on starting your business’ sustainability journey today.
It might sound a little bit harsh, even condescending, but without any doubt you and your business are hereby demanded to contribute to a better planet! As if you didn't already know that, or are not already doing it! We can see how you are rolling your eyes, sighing, and considering whether to continue reading. We know your days are packed, operations are overwhelming, and your stakeholders have never ending demands. Topline growth is what they want to see, what you signed up to deliver, and is what keeps you up at night. How can we have the audacity to ask about your sustainability journey! But hear us out; we propose that you can stay on top of growth at the same time while you embark on your sustainability journey. We even dare to suggest that the two are strongly interconnected and can leverage each other. So don't give up on us just yet! Give us 3 more minutes of your busy time. We promise to pay it back and more.
Let's face the brutal facts (together)
2021 has been filled with wildfires, floods, and heat waves all around the world. While we were trying to digest the terrifying videos, testimonials, and data emanating from these, the 2021 Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report hit us all in the gut. The report was unambiguous in declaring that we all are “unequivocally” causing climate change and that immediate actions must be taken to avoid worsening impact.
None of us can (at least without blushing) say that we weren't aware. For decades now, the science behind climate change and other major environmental threats (pollution, loss of biodiversity & habitats, and depletion of natural resources, etc.) have been widely publicised. By now, everyone knows about the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and maybe you are using the SDGs’ logos to both devote resources to and get some “thumbs up” for the related work you are already doing.
It is also fascinating to see how a new line of specialised consultancy is now taking shape, giving us the formula to analyze what it means for any company to become greener. Yet, it seems like there is always one more area to investigate, one more parameter to take into consideration, a few more pages to include in a serious attempt to really get down to understanding the question of what it means for a company to paint its future with a deeper(?) shade of green. The wait for the formula to be shaken and stirred is endless and the reaction from far too many companies is a wait-and-see approach, with some satisfaction in the notion of: “We can't be blamed because we are doing something, i.e. learning more!”.
To be fair, it is a daunting task. You want to be comprehensive enough, and avoid improvements in an area that makes a negative impact elsewhere. Then there are the comparisons between different solutions, and too often when a decision (finally) is about to be reached, there is always an apple-to-orange dilemma that brings the decision back to “we need to learn even more”. It is a vicious cycle that could be labelled: analysis paralysis.
This analysis paralysis must stop! And there are at least 3 reasons for that:
Don't kid yourself or anyone else; you will not know the exact outcome of your work with sustainability when you start. You won’t know because so much of what you need to do in your company, with and for your customers and partners has never been done before, neither in your company nor in your industry. You are a pioneer!
When you decide to take your first steps on the sustainability journey there are two things we suggest you keep in mind.
1. Don´t let anyone fool you into thinking that sustainability is a zero sum game!
The key issue is that some leaders see sustainability as a “either-or” dilemma, which leads to a “neither-nor” strategy - it is not! There is nothing inherently negative in taking sustainability into consideration when growing a successful business. Quite the contrary we would say: Successful businesses are / can be recognized by resilience and impact, both terms closely connected to sustainability.
There are already examples: world-renowned brands, like Patagonia, show how being sustainable makes for good - even great - business. With a lot of well-earned confidence, Patagonia even encourages customers to not buy another jacket from Patagonia if the one they have can last for another year.
How do you turn something that has been and - we guess - is still a myth among your peers into something that is an opportunity for your business?
Dare to check the zero sum attitude at the door, i.e. it is not either or, you can have both! Include sustainability in your top-line projections and two things will happen: 1) with innovation for sustainability you will be able to offer an even better product or solution to your existing customers, and 2) new and sustainable customers (and generation), even future die-hard fans will show up at your doorstep and ask if they can buy.
How do we know? Companies we work with increasingly show quantitative and qualitative data indicating that this path moves them forward. Mintel’s 2021 Sustainability Barometer shows that we have reached the tipping point: Consumers increasingly put companies as being responsible for sustainability issues. So what side of the tipping point do you want to be on? Because this is happening; the butterflies in Australia are not fluttering as much as they did and that is going to turn into a top-line problem for you.
Takeaway: It is not a zero sum game. There are enough examples to show that baking sustainability into your business can help you grow the business and customer base.
2. Greenwashing is for imposters (and you are not one of them)!
There is no need for you to practice greenwashing, with or without the fury of customers and other stakeholders. Yes, it might take time to go through the core of your company and identify potential for innovations, changes in operations, etc. that will lead to real changes. And yes, coming back to what we said in the introduction: We know you are crunched for time. But you have to stop that practice! Because the honest truth is that if you don´t take command over the changes that need to be made, even cleanse the green you've been washing yourself with, you might not have anything but (empty) minutes at your hands going forward.
Without real and honest changes in your company, you will not only be a imposter but a soon-to-be forgotten company that will become another warning example of a company that didn´t take sustainability efforts seriously, that put on a green make-up for a few and fast bucks extra, to cut a few corners, and where there are “not-to” lessons learned to be made.
All of us are responsible for someone being this ignorant: "I think I may have saved the world. When I was buying my iced coffee earlier, I refused the plastic straw they offered. Think about all the plastic pollution I prevented!” Overheard at a cafe in Singapore.
Our take is that you are not alone. Remember that your customers are cheering you on with the willingness to stay loyal and possibly spend more if you show progress. Governments have also stepped up with guidance and grants, like Singapore’s whole-of-nation Green Plan 2030 and Sweden’s Climate Act and Climate Policy Framework. Done is better than perfect. There’s no need to figure it all out, just get started.
Takeaway: Don’t look for the easy way out. This is not a communications exercise. There is work to do. It won’t be easy nor provide instant gratification, but it can be done and you will get rewarded.
And now you have given us 3 minutes of your busy time. We are grateful for that! Maybe you are not sighing but rather mumbling: “Yep, that is easy for them to say. But what can they do for my company? What's their plan of action?”. Relevant questions and the short answer is, we want to take you on a sustainability journey with us where the question in focus is: Are you circular enough in your market potential, in your business opportunity, in your execution, and in how you conduct your business tomorrow, next week, next year.
Rest assure: If you don´t do something today:
Get in touch now!
Watch out for part 2 of our series on how to get started immediately with design thinking.
Dr Lena Ramfelt is based in Sweden and works with entrepreneurs to empower them to succeed and build sustainable businesses. She shares her observations and insights in her blog “Lena in the Trenches”.
Kae Fong leads Binomial, an innovation and creative consultancy, and is based in Singapore. His goal is to help businesses become impact-aligned and purpose-driven.
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