SB Research Weekly December 7, 2011   

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Wielding Influence as a Sustainability Leader

With small budgets but big responsibilities, wielding influence is a critical skill for sustainability leaders. Influence, and how to get it, are among the topics explored in the latest Green Research corporate sustainability study.

A handful of top sustainability executives believe they have total control of their companies’ sustainability strategies. Most share influence with others, but nonetheless feel they are in the strategic driver’s seat. Three quarters of them rate their influence over sustainability strategy at their company as four on a five-point scale. Perceived influence is somewhat correlated with proximity to the C.E.O. but other factors affect influence, such as the talents of the sustainability leader, the board’s commitment to sustainability and cultural factors that determine a company’s ability to adapt and to act on stated priorities.

Corporate sustainability starts with strategy and continues through tactics, policies and procedures. In the areas of communications and external affairs, sustainability executives generally perceive themselves to have substantial influence. This is partly due to where the sustainability function reports in corporations: an earlier Green Research study found that 30 percent of sustainability departments report into public affairs or marketing groups. But when it comes to other corporate functions such as procurement, supply chain or product marketing, they carry less sway. Over a quarter of respondents to our survey report having little or no influence over supply chain policies or procedures at their company and another half have moderate influence. Many companies are just beginning to contemplate how to obtain sustainability performance improvements from their suppliers.


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    Overcoming the Sustainable Supply Chain Paradox
A recent paper in the Journal of Operations Management provides an analysis of what makes supply chains tick with some suggestions for how to wring sustainability improvements from them. The paper describes two types of capabilities that companies employ in the design and management of their supply chains: technical and relational. Sustainability execs should take note.
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    The Good and Bad of Stretch Goals
Most companies have at least some “stretch” environmental goals, but such goals might just be counterproductive. A study published in the July issue of the Academy of Management Review suggests that, in some cases, stretch goals can actually hurt performance.
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This work is licensed under a CreativeCommons License. Copyright Sustainable Life Media Inc. 2011