Executive Summary There are daunting gaps between what most companies say about the importance of sustainability and their operating practices. Stronger leadership, firmer accountability, and more expertise could all help to reduce the gap. But behind the gaps are more foundational considerations: how sustainability features in a company’s vision, mission, and values. This paper examines at how leading companies are leveraging their vision, mission, and values to move forward on sustainability. We look first at General Electric whose new strategic vision is represented in its ecomagination campaign. Next we consider Unilever whose vitality mission allowed the company to resurrect its founder’s ideals and apply them to a modern era where upscale consumers want healthier food and socially relevant personal care products and those in emerging markets seek safer and affordable branded products. Finally, we examine IBM with its smarter planet program that connects the company to society rests on a new values platform to innovate for the company and the world.
Vision, Mission, Values: Guideposts to Sustainability
Over 75 percent of executives worldwide believe that sustainability is important to the financial success of their companies but, as of 2010, only around 30 to 40 percent are taking serious steps to embed it into their business practices. Why the significant gap? One reason is that many companies don’t have a clear or agreed to view on sustainability. Some define it narrowly with regard to environmental performance—their greenhouse gas emissions, energy use, waste management, and the like. Interestingly, those that take it seriously typically have a more expansive and integrative perspective that links environmental, societal and governance responsibilities together into an overall sustainability or ESG agenda (sometimes joined under the names of corporate responsibility, social responsibility, or corporate citizenship). A second reason for the gap is that there is no alignment across the business on who is responsible for environmental, social, and governance issues or agreement on how to handle them. For example, are concerns raised about the wages, working, and living conditions of contract employees in a remote supply chain a human resource (HR) or corporate social responsibility (CSR) matter? Shouldn’t the health, safety, and environmental people be involved, too, because of questions about the safety of factories and cleanliness of water in the nearby community? And what about the legal department to ensure compliance with industry codes? At this point, individual staff units are often overwhelmed by the interrelated issues, opportunities, and threats and the majority of companies have no policies or the silo-busting machinery in place to pull together a coordinated response. A third reason for the gap is that many companies simply don’t make a strong commitment to sustainability. As a result, competing priorities intervene; short term profit pressures supersede good intentions; and sustainability efforts slow down, are marginalized, or
are limited to a few “quick wins” with little more to follow. As one executive we talked to explained it, “We have lots of initiatives, programs, and such, but CSR (his company’s term of reference) has not been ‘interiorized’ in our business.” Most would agree that credible CEO leadership, appropriate organizational infrastructure, and better measurement of and clearer accountabilities for ESG…