Wednesday, July 11, 2018

Reading :: The Sustainability Edge

The Sustainability Edge: How to Drive Top-Line Growth with Triple-Bottom-Line Thinking
By Suhas Apte and Jagdish Sheth

This business book tackles the question: How do you build a business around sustainability? That is, rather than building a business around simply maximizing business profits and/or maximizing shareholder value, how do you maximize benefits for all stakeholders, and how do you do it as a source of competitive advantage (p.16)? As the authors state, “Today, the best companies are generating every form of value that matters: emotional, experiential, social, and financial. And they’re doing it for all their stakeholders, not because it’s ‘politically correct’ but because it’s the only path to long-term competitive advantage” (p.17).

This angle may remind my readers of the socially responsible capitalism of Kozmetsky or, more cynically, Boltanski and Chiapello’s argument that capitalism incorporates its critiques. In any case, the book is built around the “sustainability stakeholders framework,” which attends to “triple-bottom-line thinking”: direct impact (consumers, customers, employees), indirect impact (NGOs, governments, media), and enabler impact (suppliers, investors, communities) (p.25). Most of the book involves describing each kind of impact and each stakeholder, providing illustrations from major companies such as Clorox.

To be honest, most of the heavy lifting in the book is done by the framework described above (depicted at the beginning of most chapters) and the attendant Stakeholder Sustainability Audit in the appendix. The (singular) bottom line of the book is that companies will be more sustainable if they identify a way to balance the needs of all the listed stakeholders. In other words, this book could be easily summarized in an HBR article, but the illustrations make it easier to apply.

Should you read this book? If you’re trying to formulate a business model, I’d suggest skimming it.

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