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Written by Rolf Andersson | Sweden
on October 24, 2012

In a recent blog I suggested that many companies need to raise sustainability issues from an obscure hygiene factor to a major reason-to-buy. And that the first step is to involve the marketing and sales people that are in touch with your current and potential customers. That is not entirely true.

Because, before you do that, you must make sure that your own organization is serious about it. And getting serious about sustainability goals and strategy begins at the very same place as getting serious about your business goals and strategy: At the very top.

To catch theattention and support of your top management and shareholders you need to tap in to their business priorities: To sell more at lower costs and thus deliver more dividends and share value for the shareholders; to maintain strategic customer relations; to avoid business risks and exploit emerging business opportunities, and so forth.

* Now, if your customers (and ultimately your customers’ customers) feel that your responsible performance could contribute to their business results and their social and environmental profile, they are more likely to buy your products or services. And if sustainability is as important to them as it is to you, it may even help you to maintain a premium price. Check.

* If you use less materials and energy… if you simplify production or sales processes… if you have fewer quality problems… if you reduce the amount of waste products… you will almost certainly reduce costs while, at the same time, reducing the carbon footprint. Check.

* If your responsible behaviour reduces your customers’ risks of more rigid legislation, environmental taxes or fees… if their employees, customers, distributors or influential industry media appreciate your behaviour as a corporate citizen, you will increase your chances to win their trust and loyalty over time. Check.

In other words the fundamental driving forces are already there.

But if sustainability is not a tangible and integrated part of your corporate identity and business plan, you will find it very difficult to get serious about it in your marketing plan, agency briefs or sales training. And consequently they will not be a natural part of your everyday business life either.

So you have got to start at the very top, establishing sustainability as a business-critical opportunity and potential USP; a way to save and earn money and, internally, an energizing motivational factor. Then you need to make sure that the people in charge of business development, distribution, sales, customer support, marketing, PR and internal culture recognize customers’ issues where sustainability can be part of the answer.

Once you get that snowball rolling, you will surely find some new and exciting ways ahead.

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