Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Transforming Cultures from Within

Anderson, Amodeo and Hartzfeld summarize their work how businesses can change the culture of their organization to embracing sustainability while still being profitable. They open the article with:

“The current Industrial Age was born out of the Enlightenment and the unfolding understanding of humanity’s ability to tap the power and expansiveness of nature. The mindset that was developed early in the Age was well adapted to its time, when there were relatively few people and nature seemed limitless. Unfortunately, this mindset is poorly adapted to the current reality of nearly 7 billion people and badly stressed ecosystems. A new, better-adapted worldview and global economy are being born today from a greater understanding of how to thrive within the frail limits of nature.

Vital to the transition of the economy is the very institution that serves as its primary engine: business and industry. To lead this shift, business must delve much deeper than just the array of eco or clean technologies that are in vogue, to the core beliefs that drive actions. While a few visionary companies have been founded on the principles of sustainability, most businesses will require radical change. In the coming decades, business models and mindsets must be fundamentally transformed to sustain companies’ value to their customers, shareholders, and other stakeholders.

More and more organizations are turning to sustainability as a source of competitive advantage. Yet many companies are trapped and frustrated by their limited understanding of this challenge; many see it only as a set of technical problems to solve or a clever marketing campaign to organize. Perhaps the greatest danger is that these superficial approaches give companies a false sense of progress, which in the long run will very likely lead to their demise.”

One of the companies on this journey that was profiled in this article is Interface, Inc.

“The U.S.-based global carpet manufacturer Interface, Inc. offers a valuable case study of a company that has embraced and achieved transformational change toward sustainability. Interface reports being only about 60 percent of the way toward achieving its Mission Zero 2020 goals, but the company has come far in its 15-year journey to sustainability. It has reduced net greenhouse gas emissions by 71 percent, water intensity by 74 percent, landfill waste by 67 percent, and total energy intensity by 44 percent. It has diverted 175 million pounds of old carpet from landfills, invented new carpet recycling technology, and sold 83 square kilometers of third-party certified, climate-neutral carpet. In the process, Interface has generated substantial business value in its brand and reputation, cost savings of $405 million, attraction and alignment of talent, and industry-leading product innovation.”

The cultural change model they used is summarized in the graphic below and described in the article.

Other businesses profiled are Nike, and Wal-Mart.

The cultural change model is similar to the one I have used to increase innovation in organizations. This model is specifically applied to sustainability.

I speculated in an earlier post that ecology might be the single issue that can drive substantive change. Perhaps we have almost arrived there.

“Business and society are in a period of crisis as well as potential. Doing the same things a little differently, better, or faster will not bring about the transformational changes needed to address today’s challenges or grasp new opportunities. The Industrial Age can be supplanted by a new age of evolving human wisdom and emergent innovations, but only if businesses are willing to challenge existing paradigms and proactively discover new answers through collective inspiration.

Business and industry—the most dominant institutions on the planet in both size and influence—can bring about organizational awakening that can catalyze more sweeping societal change. If business models are grounded in the values of sustainability, the people who work in those firms will also likely accept and adopt the behaviors associated with sustainability as the “way things are and should be.” This offers business and industry a unique opportunity to accelerate the tipping point needed to correct society’s current trajectory. To achieve this shift, companies must explore new worldviews and discard the old flawed views by encouraging personal reflection and new dialogue about the purpose and responsibility of business.”

Changing Business Cultures from Within, Ray Anderson, Mona Amodeo and Jim Hartzfeld, 2010 State of the World, Transform Cultures: From Consumerism to Sustainability, The Worldwatch Institute

For additional information, go to the Blog Transforming Cultures.

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