Executive Briefings

Responsibility as Strategic Advantage: The Maturing of Green

For those who maintain that companies have no business getting involved with responsibility-driven endeavors because, after all, "the business of business is business" there is often a lack of awareness of the business benefits-and practical imperatives-associated with responsibility-driven endeavors. Likewise, critics who point out that it is only for shameless cost or reputation-related motives that companies adopt responsibility-driven platforms often fail to acknowledge the many positive social and environmental outcomes even of initiatives with top or bottom line-driven goals. Case study interviews with firms of all sizes indicate that these critiques illuminate an outmoded way of understanding the social, economic, and environmental imperatives of this historic moment.

Since January 2008, Aberdeen Group has researched the sustainability and green initiatives of over 5,000 organizations worldwide. Companies overwhelmingly indicate that these initiatives are a major component of enterprise-wide corporate responsibility (CR) platforms (74 percent). For an increasing number of organizations, CR and sustainability are shifting from being viewed as a burdensome mandate to being embraced as a pathway to meaningful growth in a complex and dynamic global market.

Companies are realizing that economic and operational improvements can indeed support more responsible practices, socially and environmentally. Therefore, the reality of our global, interdependent economy and society is that new frameworks are needed that can lend companies the holistic, responsible and innovative vision required to become truly responsive to and successful in, a volatile and hyper-competitive environment. On practically all levels, businesses are being required to think in the language of responsibility and stewardship. So if, in an outmoded and narrow way of thinking, the business of business stays business, it will become increasingly difficult to remain in business. With best practices in place, a company's drive to increase its responsibility contains within it the needs, goals and outcomes of such things as:

• Lowered costs, greater shareholder value, competitive advantage, increased market opportunity, innovation, responsiveness, higher profits, reduced risk, reduced liability and greater visibility and collaboration.

• Stakeholder satisfaction, improved ability to attract top talent, improved worker and public safety, more effective social and economic development initiatives, and greater customer centricity.

• Lower emissions, reduced pollution, reduced hazardous materials, a more balanced ecosystem, smaller water footprint, and reduced amounts of waste in landfills and developing nations.

A quick look at the history of business ethics and social engagement underscores the striking transformation inherent in the socio-culture of business today. Companies have generally shifted from viewing economic activity as tantamount to and distinct from the larger sociopolitical and economic world in which they operated-to viewing themselves as enmeshed within, responsible for and beholden to society and the environment in order to continue to operate. It is increasingly clear that the well-being of the economic ecosystem is inextricably linked to the well-being of the social and environmental ecosystem, and companies by the thousands are struggling to understand the challenges and opportunities of this historic shift. As a result, companies of all kinds are attempting to re-imagine not only their responsibilities and risks-but also their opportunities and potentials.

The Outlook

The results of Aberdeen research show that sustainability is many things to many people and while some see it chiefly as a cost and risk-reducing environmental exercise called "green," others view it as a holistic ideology of enterprise-wide responsibility to be integrated into the organizational DNA. Aberdeen research finds that in 2009, these issues will take more strategic importance than before.

Since January 2008, Aberdeen Group has researched the sustainability and green initiatives of over 5,000 organizations worldwide. Companies overwhelmingly indicate that these initiatives are a major component of enterprise-wide corporate responsibility (CR) platforms (74 percent). For an increasing number of organizations, CR and sustainability are shifting from being viewed as a burdensome mandate to being embraced as a pathway to meaningful growth in a complex and dynamic global market.

Companies are realizing that economic and operational improvements can indeed support more responsible practices, socially and environmentally. Therefore, the reality of our global, interdependent economy and society is that new frameworks are needed that can lend companies the holistic, responsible and innovative vision required to become truly responsive to and successful in, a volatile and hyper-competitive environment. On practically all levels, businesses are being required to think in the language of responsibility and stewardship. So if, in an outmoded and narrow way of thinking, the business of business stays business, it will become increasingly difficult to remain in business. With best practices in place, a company's drive to increase its responsibility contains within it the needs, goals and outcomes of such things as:

• Lowered costs, greater shareholder value, competitive advantage, increased market opportunity, innovation, responsiveness, higher profits, reduced risk, reduced liability and greater visibility and collaboration.

• Stakeholder satisfaction, improved ability to attract top talent, improved worker and public safety, more effective social and economic development initiatives, and greater customer centricity.

• Lower emissions, reduced pollution, reduced hazardous materials, a more balanced ecosystem, smaller water footprint, and reduced amounts of waste in landfills and developing nations.

A quick look at the history of business ethics and social engagement underscores the striking transformation inherent in the socio-culture of business today. Companies have generally shifted from viewing economic activity as tantamount to and distinct from the larger sociopolitical and economic world in which they operated-to viewing themselves as enmeshed within, responsible for and beholden to society and the environment in order to continue to operate. It is increasingly clear that the well-being of the economic ecosystem is inextricably linked to the well-being of the social and environmental ecosystem, and companies by the thousands are struggling to understand the challenges and opportunities of this historic shift. As a result, companies of all kinds are attempting to re-imagine not only their responsibilities and risks-but also their opportunities and potentials.

The Outlook

The results of Aberdeen research show that sustainability is many things to many people and while some see it chiefly as a cost and risk-reducing environmental exercise called "green," others view it as a holistic ideology of enterprise-wide responsibility to be integrated into the organizational DNA. Aberdeen research finds that in 2009, these issues will take more strategic importance than before.