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Don’t follow the leader, choose your own path

Eric Mieras, PRé Managing Director, shares his view on the importance of not following the crowd when it comes to achieving your company’s sustainability goals. Finding and following your own path are key to maximizing the benefit of your sustainability efforts for your company and the LCA community.

By Eric Mieras on January 13, 2014

The sustainability parrot – a.k.a. – practicing what others preach

Most companies feel the need to actively become more sustainable. And many of them do take action – the same action as everyone else. Often, sustainability seems to be driven by the fear of missing the boat, so everybody follows the same trends and buys-in to the latest hype: from bio mimicry to circular economy to collaborative consumption to whatever comes next. It’s even common practice to simply copy what the front-runners are doing.

 

At the same time, I see fast-growing start-ups such as Mosaic, Floow2 and Peerby, setting a new standard for sustainability with their products and processes. They are not only very specific in the issues they address, but they operate in an open and collaborative way. The efforts they put into sustainability go beyond their own company to include many other people and organizations. This openness helps them to develop new business models, gain competitive advantage and create shared value.

 

Focus on impact and collaboration

So, what do these companies do differently? To begin with, they have shifted from sustainability compliance (“doing what others do”) to focusing on creating positive impact (“where can we make a difference”). While driving an electric car might be ‘fashionable’, getting your management team to drive a Tesla S won’t reduce the carbon footprint related to commuter traffic.

 

Secondly, they collaborate with other stakeholders in their ecosystem instead of acting alone. Creating shared value alone is not possible when only a small percentage of your negative impact is direct. For example, only 4.4% of Samsung’s total greenhouse gas emissions result from its manufacturing activities. Only collaboration across your value chain can unlock the full value creation potential of your sustainability efforts. 

 

Gain insight into your impact across the value chain with LCA

To steer away from general discussions and approaches to sustainability, I believe it is vital to know where your company creates the biggest impacts. This is normally not at the corporate level, but through the products and services you offer. Accurately determining your impacts requires an objective, analytical approach. An LCA can help with this as it provides insights into where impacts occur throughout the life cycle of your products. These insights can lead you in unexpected and profitable directions, as this example shows. Traditionally, insights gained have been limited to environmental indicators, but there are initiatives to extend them to include social indicators as well.

 

Identify hotspots for impact improvement and collaboration

Once you know where your impacts are and have identified hotspots for improvement, both internally and across your value chain, you will know which companies and organizations are the stakeholders in your sustainability ecosystem. And then, rather than only talking about what your companies could or should do together, it is important to have the openness and willingness to actively engage, collaborate, and create shared value with them. This is exactly what the LCA community needs and can help you to do. And that’s already the first win-win!

‘Sustainability is all about impact. Positive impact makes you meaningful. But first you have to know where you are having an impact and where you can create shared value. That’s where PRé comes in. Pinpointing your impact is an essential starting point for taking joint action with people and organizations in your ecosystem. The combination of sustainability and social business can make a real change in the way we do business.’

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