One of the best benefits of studying at LBS is the access you get to a tremendous amount of events and conferences where you get to meet and hear from business leaders from all over the world. On Monday, I had the opportunity to attend an event from the Up Close series where Lord Sebastian Coe, Chairman of the London Organising Committee for the Olympic Games spoke about the vision and brand behind the London 2012 Olympic Games.

It is very embarrassing for me to admit that before going to hear Mr Coe speak, I had no idea that he won four Olympic medals and set eight outdoor and three indoor world records in middle distance track events. That’s impressive! But even more impressive (at least to me!) was Mr Coe’s speech where he focused on what differentiated London’s bid to host the Olympics compared to other great cities like Paris, Moscow, etc.

He talked a lot about building a competitive advantage by having a sustained, long-term vision and ensuring that you leave a positive legacy behind. If I understood him correctly, Mr Coe argued that London won the bid not because of being a great city with good infrastructure, but because his team was able to clearly articulate what the Olympics would do for people in the UK, such as encouraging children to get into sports and delivering the first fully-sustainable games in the world.

This line of thinking was not completely foreign to me. In fact, I think there is a movement going on today where in a changing world that is exceedingly complex, interconnected and unpredictable, businesses are realising that building resilience for tomorrow requires a focus on sustainability instead of on short-term gain.

Similar to Mr Coe, leaders at the recently held Davos also argued that a key challenge for forward-looking business leaders in 2011 and beyond will be to find the right balance between long-term value creation and pure profitability. This, they said, will require some “soul searching” for a lot of companies and continuous focus on operating as a valuable member of society, instead of just a product or service provider.

I agree and I think that as a result, businesses will also need to realise that they cannot operate in isolation and that leadership today means managing a range of complicated relationships in order to successfully address complex issues. Taking this stakeholder approach to sustainability will not be easy for many. But those who are patient and put the right resources and dedication in place to master it will benefit from continued growth and enjoy a unique competitive advantage in the new market reality.

What do you think? Is the sustainability movement building momentum and are businesses ready to navigate successfully through a complicated sea of stakeholder relations?

6 Responses to “The business sustainability movement”

  1. avatar Mike says:

    This was an excellently written article. Thank you for sharing.

    Yes, I think the sustainability movement is gaining ground. I think the idea that people want to be part of something “bigger than themselves” is what resonates with this desire for people within corporate culture. In western culture in a sense we have already achieved the goal of successful businesses that make a profit and realized that there must be more to work than just making a profit. I’m thankful that my company has formally published and followed through with their Corporate Social Responsibility policy (Here it is: http://www.paragonrelocation.com/About/CSR.htm) and in addition we publicly recognize a Community Service Award Winner each year (From our blog earlier this year: http://blog.paragonrelocation.com/index.php/paragon-relocations-2010-community-service-award-winner/). No it wasn’t me who received that award, but I am proud to work for a corporation which seeks to make this world a better place in addition to making a profit. Frankly, by caring about our local communities we receive much much more than we give.

    Thanks again!

    • avatar Maria says:

      Thank you for your comment Mike! It’s great to see company like yours, following through on their Corporate Social Responsibility policy. You are right that with the sustainability movement growing, many will be left without a choice, but to do so. It’s interesting to see how this translates in emerging markets. I come from Bulgaria and this is not something on the agenda yet.

  2. avatar farzin says:

    Thank you Maria for sharing this well written article. I am at California State University at Fullerton and as an evolutionary anthropologist I am working on many projects including the human impact on the California’s environment. At this era, we are facing over population, over consumption, and over exploitation of our resources. And we are doing all of the above in a very fast pace. I think businesses can help by buying online vs. sending their buyers our or accepting the sellers in their offices. As an example there is a website for retail stores http://www.ocsurplus.com which says surplus items in the US. Retail stores used to drive with a truck to local wholesalers to buy and bring their needed merchandise to their stores but by using the internet, they can just order and after a few days receive their items. Also they can find thousands of different options. This is one of the reasons that I always encourage businesses to shop online and save money, energy, and the environment.

    • avatar Maria says:

      Thank you for your comment Farzin and for sharing this initiative! Changing behaviors often means we have to start with small, but impactful actions.

  3. avatar Alan Ross says:

    Great article Maria. I’ve always wanted to leave a legacy. Not bricks and mortar, but something that people would remember me for. I’ve recently emigrated from East London to Hamilton New Zealand in search of my dream to build my own recording studio. Thereafter I hope to record music tracks and also help others to produce their own tracks. Don’t get me wrong Maria, even if the tracks fail to make the charts, I’ve still left a legacy! Something my 3 year old can say, “My father did this!”

    Thanks again Maria.

    • avatar Maria says:

      Thank you very much for your comment Alan! I wish you best of luck with your recording venture. Can I also say that as the daughter of a musician (unfortunately not by profession, but by heart), I’ve always felt extremely proud of him and he’s definitely left a legacy with his songs for me and my family.