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Distilling Complexity: Designing an Effective Sustainability Plan

Image credit: Yale School of Management

On Black Friday of 2011, Patagonia released a now-famous New York Times advertisement with a picture of a jacket and a simple plea: “Don’t buy this jacket.” The response, ironically, was a surge in sales. Some analysts deemed the whole thing a cheap trick. But the underlying message was clear.

Consumers prefer brands imbued with purpose. They prefer companies that are working to create a better future. Corporate sustainability is shifting — has perhaps already shifted — from a sidelined department into a core strategic opportunity, which means that lines of inquiry are also evolving: Where companies once debated whether or not to pursue sustainability, these questions are being replaced with debate over how best to pursue sustainability initiatives. What does success look like? What areas should be targeted, internally and externally? Who is responsible for outcomes and who must be brought on-board?

Answering these questions is complicated, demanding integrated analysis of information across almost every field — from broad regulatory and business trends to cutting-edge technological and scientific innovations.

“Today’s sustainability challenges reach around the world and are deeply interconnected,” said Stuart DeCew, Program Director at the Yale Center for Business and the Environment. “This means that solutions, to have meaningful impact, must bridge long-standing corporate divisions and academic disciplines.”

In response to this challenge, the Yale School of Management is running a Corporate Sustainability Accelerator this November 2-4 to help companies vitalize and refine their sustainability plans. The accelerator follows two distinct programs:

  • First, participants take part in a series of meticulously curated talks on issues of sustainability. These explore an array of issues, from what metrics are most illuminating to how one might best influence peers and reduce institutional resistance.
  • Second, and most distinctly, the accelerator offers one-on-one discussion with some of the world’s leading sustainability thinkers to help participants revise their sustainability plans.

Past participants have found this second component particularly useful as they return to work. “This [program] will open your eyes and make you think more broadly about what you should be doing to propel and sustain your company,” Myra Gardiner, General Manager of Nextera Energy, recently wrote. “The highly qualified Yale Management faculty…gave me the tools I needed to ensure we have a quality Sustainability Plan.”

This is the first sustainability program of its kind, uniting science, leadership, business strategy and innovation to help sustainability officers succeed as strategic partners in their organization. It also comes at a key time, when companies who fail to innovate in this space are falling behind. In the world of corporate sustainability, there is no longer any middle ground.

For more information on the Corporate Sustainability Accelerator, visit the website or contact tracy.sheerin@yale.edu.


Launched in 2006, Sustainable Brands has become a global learning, collaboration, and commerce community of forward-thinking business and brand strategy, marketing, innovation and sustainability professionals who are leading the way to a better future. We recognize that brands today have… [Read more about Sustainable Brands]


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