In the well-known management book Built to Last, co-authors Jim Collins and Jerry Porras pose the question: Why do some corporations last so long while others struggle to get by or quickly fade away? The pair seek answers by studying 18 successful United States companies and comparing their performance with that of a competitor which is not doing so well. One of the book's insights is that each of the visionary companies established a set of core values from infancy and never wavered from them, even in hard times.
Now, we're looking for our own particular Kiwi business blueprint for resilience, with the launch this month of the Sustainable 60 Series. Fairfax Media Business Group and PricewaterhouseCoopers are partnering in the series, which is designed to share and reward sustainable business practice in New Zealand. It is about thriving, not only surviving.
When we say sustainability, we're not just talking green.
We're talking the entire concept of business sustainability, which incorporates five key criteria: strategy (such as business plans, leadership and innovation); workplace (think productivity and equal opportunity); marketplace (such as procurement practices and good design); environment (now we're talking green); and community (philanthropy and community involvement).
The Sustainable 60 Series will track the progress of companies on their journey, reward those which achieve excellence and share their stories.
The call for entries for the awards opens to companies on July 27 and the winners will be announced at a cocktail function on December 2. Sound like you? Enter now. The Independent and its sister business publication, Unlimited magazine, will publish a special supplement in December on the winners, and from March next year we'll be holding a series of seminars based on lessons that emerge from the series.
We're all at different stages of the journey. Our partner, PricewaterhouseCoopers New Zealand, is well down the path. Fairfax New Zealand is on that journey, too, and, as a media company, feels a responsibility to educate business on this.
PwC chief executive Warwick Hunt has, until now, never spoken to the media about the professional services organisation's sustainability moves. "We have seen a lot of organisations use their charitable activities as a marketing tool, but our own belief was we wanted to ensure we did something that was worthwhile, sustainable and ultimately that we could all be proud of, before we did that."
Five years ago, the New Zealand practice conducted a strategic review where it ranked itself, as you'd expect, most highly in the client service area. But it had shortcomings in its people strategies particularly over sustainability and was not pulling its weight in the community or environmental areas.
Ad Feedback Hunt sees human capital as key to sustainability but has also acted on the other fronts. Take environment. After quantifying its carbon footprint, PwC found it was largely derived from travel; international travel in particular. It would have had to spend only $20,000 a year on carbon credits to offset its footprint, but Hunt felt that was akin to paying someone to go on a diet for you. Instead, the firm invested in video-conferencing. Hunt, who sits on the global firm's Australian leadership team, attends only one in four meetings face-to-face. The rest he does by video. He has even given a speech using this technology to send a message on sustainability, rather than because he couldn't make it in person.
Another measure has been to put timers and motion sensors on office lights for outside normal working hours. Hunt recalls one senior partner who typically didn't work late doing so one night because of deadline pressure. At 7pm the motion sensors turned off the lights and another staff member waved their arms to turn them back on. The second time it happened, the senior partner started getting agitated, to the amusement of his staff. The third time, the irate partner jumped up and shouted "who the x@# percent keeps turning the lights out?".
For any company, sustainability starts with small steps. "You have to work your way to having the broad range of stakeholders recognise not only that this is highly desirable in the qualitative sense, but it actually works economically and produces greater value for those who have their equity at stake," Hunt says.
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