The Business Case for Sustainability
Evidence in favour of the business case continues to build and is particularly
strong in certain area of business performance. However, there still remains
a significant gap between what is intuitively logical and what one can
prove. We take the following key messages from this journey:
1. Positive Impact
The jury is in - overall, corporate sustainable development performance
has a positive impact on business success. A strategic focus
on sustainable development performance is aligned with mainstream business
2. Brand and Reputation
Of the ten measures of business success, brand value & reputation
is the measure that appears to be most positively linked to corporate
SD performance. It is clear that business case analysis should
not focus exclusively on financial measures.
3. Environmental Process
Of the ten dimensions of SD performance, overall environmental
performance (in particular, environmental process focus) is supported
by the strongest business case. This dimension should continue
to play a prominent role in any business case assessment.
4. Financial Results
Positive links between SD performance and verified financial results
are supported by business case research. This means that the
business case can be developed without having to exclusively rely on indirect
or intangible measures of business success.
5. Multiple Measures
The business case is strongest when multiple measures of business
success are considered. Companies should adopt a more holistic
view of business success - considering both financial results and financial
drivers (which influence future financial results).
6. Business Strategy
The business case is strongest when companies incorporate SD performance
into mainstream business strategy. The key message for companies
is that business case analysis should lead - rather than follow - a decision
to improve SD performance.
7. Chicken and Egg
The chicken and egg question: 'Are responsible companies more
prosperous, or are prosperous companies more responsible?' cannot yet
be put aside. Companies need to look closely at their own business
model and other companies' experience to better understand the mechanisms
by which improved SD performance can contribute to business success.
8. Sensitivity Testing
The business case is likely to strengthen in coming years, based
on current trends. Consequently, any business case analysis should
be dynamic, with results tested for sensitivity to various plausible scenarios.
9. Work in Progress
The business case debate is still raging, and the current state
of research supplies only partial answers. Companies should use
external evidence to supplement, rather than drive, an in-depth analysis
of their own particular situation.
10. Research Gap
The biggest research gap plaguing the business case question as
a whole is the lack of robust, generally accepted measures of corporate
SD performance. We urge companies to follow - and add to - the
debate on sustainable development key performance indicators (KPIs) as
a central part of any business case strategy.
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