How to grow a business that’s flattened out? Time to think sustainably

Alfred Marcus, Edson Spencer Endowed Chair in Strategy and Technological Leadership

Many traditional companies find themselves at a crossroads these days. After an unbroken record of success, the products they’ve been producing for many years aren’t generating excitement among consumers or growth for their brand. As they seek new solutions to ensure a solid future for their organization, some may overlook an answer that’s right in front of them: products that focusand deliver onsustainability.

While some may view sustainability in business as an example of good intentions without real bottom line benefit, I’ve researched and found many companies realizing success with a sharper focus on sustainability. They’re applying shrewd business principles to these sustainability concepts, and they’re reaping rewards as a result. In my new book, Innovations in Sustainability: Fuel and Food,  I look at current examples of major companies revamping their approach and attitude respond to the increasing demand for products which are sustainably produced.

Sustainability halo

For some of the leaders in consumer packaged goods and food production, a jump-start has been achieved by buying smaller companies with a significant “sustainability halo.” That’s why we see General Mills acquiring Annie's, Cascadian Farm, EPIC, Food Should Taste Good, and Lärabar. It made sense for Kellogg’s to acquire a well-respected brand like Kashi, and we’ve seen Coca-Cola buying up juice manufacturer Odwalla.

These giant brands have realized that the future depends on their ability to adapt to a world where demand is moving toward a new kind of product and new kinds of product claims. With a consumer base that’s worn-out and satiated from their traditional sugar-coated mainstays, they know they need to move in a different direction—and very quickly.

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 Getting started

This shift is happening already, and smart marketers are realizing that the introduction of new, sustainable categories can be accompanied by higher price points and better margins. It’s not just a consumer proposition either, because companies are increasingly aware that their reputation matters very much in attracting and engaging top talent for their employee base.

If sustainability is going to succeed in an organization, it requires product champions who can make an authentic, legitimate business case for them. If you’d like to acquire the tools to do this within your own organization, then you might be interested in attending the upcoming eight-day Comprehensive Executive Program on Leading Sustainability. 

 Leading Sustainability begins January 2018

I’m excited to be one of the presenting instructors for this course, which is a significant step toward creating effective and empowered Leading Sustainability ambassadors throughout the Twin Cities. The course, which runs January through April 2018, was developed in partnership between the Carlson School and the Institute on the Environment, with input from corporations who have a proven record of sustainability effectiveness. The course itself will be presented by business practitioners from leading companies and professors from top universities, all of whom are actively shaping sustainability best practice on the ground.

Participants will have the opportunity to explore and create sustainability frameworks and analyses through exercises, homework, and group work. We’ll work with you to find ways to prioritize sustainability factors within your own organization. By the final day of the course, you’ll have a complete toolkit to begin a transformative journey toward sustainability.

 Learn more here: https://carlsonschool.umn.edu/executive-education/courses/leading-sustainability

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