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What Does It Take to Create a Sustainable Organization?

July 4, 2013 by Dr. Jon Warner in Sustainability

What Does It Take to Create a Sustainable Organization?

For organizations of all kinds, ways of working more sustainability can take many forms from reorganizing working conditions, changing work practices, using eco-friendly strategies of all kinds and utilizing green technologies to make adjustments. However, in the most basic terms, to create a sustainable business of any kind requires an understanding of what sustainability really means at all levels.  To help create this understanding the diagram shown below may be a useful start.

According to this diagram, if sustainable people are the foundation of the success pyramid, then organizations should invest a considerable amount of time and effort in creating the right kind of climate or culture for environmentally-friendly practices to flourish. In other words, the more that the environmentally-friendly attitudes and behaviors are encouraged or nurtured in individuals across an organization, the more quickly the momentum towards greater sustainability will build. As the diagram suggests, building on this solid foundation, we can then start to think about sustainable design in products or services and sustainable processes (or crafting the series of tasks that need to be in place to deliver what an organization is promising). And if we do all this well, this creates sustainable consumers (or customers who will be willing to stay with the reorganization for a long time), and it is this that creates the basis for long-term sustainable growth.

Sustainable Enterprise

So, the key to the above diagram is motivating people about sustainability. But motivating individuals to change their less sustainable past attitudes or habits isn’t easy, of course, especially if a person (or even a whole team) is set in his or her (or their) ways. However, there are ways of getting around this hurdle. First and foremost, an organization of any size/type should never forget to explain the reason why eco-friendly attitudes and habits can be cost-effective. The money saved can be significant and reducing things like electricity and water usage can be just the beginning. Secondly, the whole approach is truly a win-win for the individuals and the organization. By working together, progress can be much faster and any success will be motivating all around.

All organizations today ideally need to integrate sustainability and risk management fully into their strategy – not only to minimize potential losses but also to exploit new business/commercial opportunities arising from the sustainability agenda. These may include new products and services to meet developing sustainability needs, new technologies to improve sustainability or risk performance, or new business models to access and develop emerging markets and support the creation of sustainable communities.

Sustainability, coupled with traditional risk identification and analysis tools, gives managers the information they need to make better, more informed decisions on an array of risks, including environmental, social, economic, operational and strategic issues. Ultimately, a sound risk management approach that incorporates sustainability provides management with useful data for identifying emerging issues and developing new and better products and processes that help protect corporate reputation and improves shareholder value.

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About Dr. Jon Warner

Dr. Jon Warner is a prolific author, management consultant and executive coach with over 25 years experience. He has an MBA and a PhD in Organizational Psychology. Jon can be reached at

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About the Editor and Primary Author

Jon Warner

Jon Warner is an executive coach and management consultant and in the past has been a CEO in three very different companies. Read more

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