The Four Stages to Move From Philanthropy to a Real, Profitable Sustainability
One of the best presentations at Sustainable Brands 2010 this year came from Marble Leadership’s Bill Marquard who challenged attendees to search for the “AND” rather than the “OR” in their quest for sustainability. Lest that sound too cryptic, here’s what he meant:
All too often we consider sustainability to be about trade-offs. We can have economic growth, OR we can take care of a pollution problem. We can make our product out of recycled material, OR we can sell it more cheaply. We can profit, OR we can give away our money to charity. The key, says Marquard, is to eliminate that kind of thinking and seek something he calls the “AND” – eliminating the idea of a trade off and finding a social or environmental issue that can be directly addressed by the core competencies of your business – not a philanthropic sideshow.
This is exactly the kind of thinking that’s at the heart of the “triple bottom line” and the very inspiration for this website.
What’s the process to find the ANDvantage?
It’s a matter of evolution. The goal, ultimately, is to find an essential contribution to sustainability that can be worked into your company’s core business model. Let’s walk through some examples and the four stages Marquard says businesses pass through to find their true “ANDVantage“:
1. Philanthropy: At the most basic level, a company may engage in philanthropy. This is as simple as it sounds and is probably the stage most companies find themselves in today. Rallying employees to spend weekends at habitat for humanity, donating to various causes, sponsoring marathons for breast cancer – all worthy and comendable pursuits, but basic and not strategically tied to anything other than goodwill and employee engagement.
2. Strategic philanthropy: The company takes a deeper look at where philanthropic time and money goes. A company like MolsonCoors might invest time and sweat in watershed restoration and supporting recreational uses of Colorado rivers, like kayak organizations. The obvious implication – cleaner water means better beer and less risk to the company’s water supply, in addition to some good PR. A lot of information about strategic philanthropy is available online.
3. Strategic sustainability: Here’s where something interesting happens. At this point a company’s strategy ceases to be purely philanthropic and begins to relate more directly to the company’s core business competencies. Marquard offered a great example – The Danone-Grameen joint venture (Between food giant Groupe Danone and Mohammad Yunus’s Grameen Bank). In this case, a meeting between Mohammad Yunus and Danone spurred a partnership whose specific purpose was the alleviation of hunger in Bangladesh – where more than 50% of children were suffering from malnutrition. The result – a new, inexpensive type of fortified yogurt designed and produced specifically for the local market. Ultimately Danone profited, and Bangladesh children enjoyed vastly greater access to nutrition (Watch Mohammad Yunus talk about the story here).
4. The ANDVantage: Finally the real goal – when sustainability itself because a a key piece of the stated mission and core business of an organization then the real magic juice has been found. It might be an unreachable goal if taken literally, but many companies embrace the concept. Among them, 3p favorites like Patagonia, Clif Bar, and Seventh Generation.