Gaining the Finance Department’s approval of a sustainability project is often a major implementation barrier for many companies.
Deborah Parrish is CFO at Straus Family Creamery and is pioneering innovations in local farming and the sale of organic foods.
I interviewed Deborah to get some tips on how sustainability advocates should approach CFOs to get their projects funded.
Counter-intutitatively, let’s start with what Deborah doesn’t say. She doesn’t say you can ignore financial discipline to gain sustainability results. CFOs are under tremendous pressure to achieve financial-performance targets, typically on a quarterly basis. Their best practices are built around effective use of capital to succeed against those financial targets. Approaching any CFO with social/environmental responsibility as a project’s anchoring value-proposition is a tough sell.
What CFO Parrish does conceptualize is a values-based financial model. She epitomizes the key strategic role held by CFOs. Here are four steps she suggests for assessing the financing of sustainability:
Sustainable Business Practices in All Areas of the Business.
Sustainability is not a department or a function. Sustainability is a best practice applicable to the operation of all business activities. It enables resource efficiency that can reduce costs. It is a path to increasing sales through increased alignment with customer values. It is a path for surfacing innovations that can generate new products offerings. It is a risk mitigation path– reducing exposure to product liability claims and regulatory interdictions. A key to engaging a CFO is to define the risk costs, operating cost escalation exposure or revenue growth opportunity enabled through a sustainability project.
Holistic Analysis. Sometimes the numbers don’t tell the whole story. That is the essence of unintended consequences and the economics of externality costs. The question this raises is how to enable a CFO to look beyond the quarterly numbers. What are the answers if the questions are measured in terms of customer loyalty, marketing trends, attracting Millennial Generation talent to the company’s job offerings and emerging regulatory/legal risks? Quantifying those answers will align with the CFO’s own quest for financial performance growth and stability.
Supply Chain Risks vs. Least Price Supplier. There is a growing stress in supplier selection within the global supply chain. Simplistically, the question is whether to choose the lowest priced supplier contract or the “best” vendor? Especially in this economy, price plays a huge role in business success. At the same time, our business news is filled with examples of supply chain risks that are damaging to the short and longer term financial performance of too many companies. Whether it is lead paint on toys or food health scares or supply disruptions the supply chain is now center stage for CFOs. Positioning a sustainability project as a path for managing risks and controlling costs will get positive attention from CFOs.
Learning is the Ultimate Competitive Advantage. In 1988 Arie de Geus, then coordinator for group planning at Royal Dutch/Shell published a Harvard Business Review article entitled “Planning as Learning.” It’s famous quote was
We understand that the only competitive advantage the company of the future will have is its managers’ ability to learn faster than their competitors.
Isn’t that the definition of sustainability’s value proposition for a business? Change is not only happening, it is accelerating at our pumps, cash registers and meters as the cost of “unsustainability” rises.
Watch this video interview with Straus Family Creamery CFO Deborah Parrish on how she sees the role of CFO in advancing sustainability including the advancement of continuous learning as a path for maintaining the resilience of a business:
Bill Roth is founder of Earth 2017, a company that connects businesses with customers seeking smart, healthy and green solutions. His book, The Secret Green Sauce, profiles case studies of businesses making money going green.