Sounds Like a Good Sustainability Strategy in the C-Suite / Board Room — But What About On the Ground in Locations Thousands of Miles Away?

Posted on April 21, 2016 by Hank Boerner – Chair & Chief Strategist

#Business & Society #Business Case #Corporate Governance #Corporate Responsibility #Corporate Sustainability #ESG Issues #Investment Case #Sustainability Professionals #Sustainability Reporting 

Many businesses over the past three decades have reshaped themselves, becoming “multi-national enterprises” (MNEs in NGO-speak), thanks in great measure to the advances in information and other technologies, where everywhere is a keyboard click away for communication, and to the end of the Cold War in 1989-1990.  Corporate organizations have also become “flatter,” with power and influence dispersed (more) to the far reaches of the operations or supply chain footprint.
Since 1970 and the first Earth Day, corporate leaders have addressed environmental issues with innovative ideas and solutions, making many parts of this planet a very cleaner place to live, work and play.  But what do these changes, some very dramatic, mean when ideas and innovations created at the top of the organization have to be applied at the very bottom by local managers and employees?
What sounds good at “the top” (strategy and course of action) may or may not work on the ground for the organization  at locations thousands of miles away.  Folks in charge there may not get the word, have little real power to implement, or may be working under conditions that are not conducive to implementing the strategy.  This applies to the continuing embrace of corporate sustainability by MNE’s or all shapes and sizes, in all industries and sectors and geographies.  The author of our Top Story this week explores some of those issues for us.
Richard Brubaker is Founder & Managing Director, Collective Responsibility, a Shanghai-based organization set up to aid in the development and execution of projects in Asia that focuses on solving environmental, economic and social challenges in the region.  He shares some lessons learned in his commentary.
As the C-suite of the MNE in the developed country creates appropriate strategies and focuses on “big picture” issues (think, what do we do about our carbon footprint in the post-Paris public policy environment), the people on the ground half-a-world away may be struggling with very different issues. (We recall the old saying, “when you are up to your butt in alligators it is hard to remember the mission is to drain the swamp.”)
The locals may be using a different language; dealing with different concerns; seeing the C-suite / HQs mission as being misaligned with the local mission; where KPIs may not apply….and more.  The commentary is timely, and coming from an experienced Asian hand, as we celebrate Earth Day #46 on 22 April, marking a time when corporate executives and boards may be looking into :”what can we do locally” in the operations to make an impact as global populations focus on environmental issues.  Including at the very local level!
The first Earth Day (April 22, 1970 – almost a half-century ago) is considered by many to be the spark that helped to create the modern-day environmental movement.  There’s more about the history in the Earth files:
“Why don’t they care?” Why top-down sustainability strategies are often doomed to fail
(Wednesday – April 13, 2016)
Source: Eco-Business – Effective sustainability strategies must speak the language of local employees and other stakeholders, writes Collective Responsibility managing director Richard Brubaker…