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green@work : Magazine : Between Blue & Yellow : Spring 2005

Between Blue and Yellow

The Question of Business Value

By Phil Storey

Where’s the value in corporate sustainability?

This is one of the persistent questions many of us have been struggling for years to answer. One of the most common suggestions for jump-starting the revolution in corporate sustainability is, “we need more case studies”—or, less delicately phrased, “Show me the money.” Of course, it’s hard to argue with this. Revealing the value in corporate sustainability has been a mission of green@work for nearly six years. And there are many thinkers and practitioners who have been articulating the value proposition for far longer. So, where has it led us? Is “more case studies” still the answer?

I’ve read that when crossing the Indian Ocean westward, you can smell Africa days before you can actually see it on the horizon. Forward-thinking leaders and organizations aren’t waiting for the hundredth (or thousandth) case study. They can smell the value of sustainability, and they’re beginning to pursue it in their businesses. We see it as more and more companies address climate change and prepare for a carbon-constrained future. We see it in multi-billion-dollar investments by GE in its “ecomagination” businesses. And we see it as increasingly powerful investor groups are pushing the issues of sustainability onto the corporate agenda.

So, have we moved beyond the “more case studies” phase? Bob Willard believes we’re fast approaching widespread corporate acceptance of sustainability as a business imperative. His article, “Five Signs That Sustainability’s Tipping Point Is Close,” describes some key indicators that, as he says, “the tectonic plates of corporate mindsets and practices are starting to shift” toward acceptance of the business value of sustainability. Leading companies aren’t waiting for more case studies.

This issue’s cover story is about a company with a lot of value to protect, and how it sees corporate social responsibility helping. According to the 2005 BusinessWeek/Interbrand ranking of the most valuable global brands, released in July, Coca-Cola tops the list with a brand worth nearly $70 billion. As the article by Peter Asmus explains, the company’s sustainability and corporate citizenship initiatives are integral to their strategy for maintaining their brand value.

Once companies have acknowledged the business value of sustainability, what are they doing to make it real? In this issue of green@work we interview Mark Buckley, vice president of environmental affairs for office supply giant Staples, about the company’s policies for supporting a sustainable forest products industry as part of a larger environmental commitment. There is also a profile of an innovative collaboration, the Sustainable Packaging Coalition. This group is leveraging expertise from throughout a sprawling value chain to bring a sustainable vision and action to a packaging industry facing serious challenges ahead.

Of course, if you’re a green@work reader you probably smell the value in corporate sustainability, even if you can’t see it definitively yet. More case studies will surely come, with numbers and dollar signs attached. In the meantime, pioneering companies and coalitions like those profiled here will be happy to harvest the value of sustainability while others wait for proof.


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