Six Reasons CEOs are Rallying for Sustainability

By Dan Probst, Chairman of Energy and Sustainability Services, JLL
Apr 4, 2016 4:00 PM ET

CHICAGO, April 4, 2016 /3BL Media/ - Advanced smart technology doesn't just make your building run better. When embraced at the C-suite level, it makes the entire organization smarter, too. And from what I've been hearing in recent conversations, CEOs—including JLL’s Colin Dyer speaking at the recent GreenBiz 16 conference—are increasingly seeing broad organizational value in placing sustainability front and center in corporate strategy.

The idea that sustainability programs, backed by high-level leadership, inspires higher-level organizational performance was a common theme at GreenBiz 16, where I had the privilege to discuss with other business leaders the role of smart building technology in an organization’s strategic direction and growth. Indeed, the importance of the relationship between leadership and sustainability strategy was also a topic I heard explored in earnest in at COP21.

These conversations are still evolving, but one takeaway is clear: Sustainability is looking increasingly rosy from the corner office—and for good reason.

Six reasons CEOs are embracing sustainability

Cleaner air, smarter resource consumption and energy savings are the obvious benefits of sustainability measures done right. When woven into the fabric the organization, even greater value is possible when the result is happier, more engaged employees, and the cost savings and comfort that comes as a side benefit to investing in smart building solutions.

JLL Chief Executive Officer and President, Colin Dyer, applies a business perspective to sustainability. “Sustainability is both a business and an important cultural value at JLL,” Dyer says. “By being a sustainable company, we serve the interests of our key stakeholders: clients, employees, shareholders and the communities where we live and work, and that makes it a strategic priority for us.”

  1. Following are six powerful draws of sustainability programs for CEOs: They've already gone on record. Publicly stated corporate social responsibility initiatives often include sustainability efforts. In fact, some research shows that the majority of Fortune 100 companies have a renewable energy and/or greenhouse gas goal. Alternative energy programs and smart building technology can be a powerful way to "walk the walk."
  2. Recruitment and retention perks abound. People want to work for a company that they can be proud of and that makes deeply informed decisions about its energy use—thereby contributing to greater financial stability that many employees can appreciate. Actively demonstrating a commitment to sustainability and smart workplaces offers something meaningful to rally behind from the leadership perspective, and attracts employees with the promise of modern, user-controlled space to do their work.  
  3. It’s the “smart” thing to do.  Imagine a building that uses less energy than the one you’re inside right now, but it also makes your coffee. Green buildings are often powered by smart building systems, building automation technologies that bring an entire building together to reduce energy consumption and deliver side benefits like personal heating and cooling controls, automated welcome features such as self-adjusting, customizable lighting, and even intelligent appliances like coffee makers that sense when an employee arrives. 
  4. Clients have their own sustainability goals. For service providers of all stripes, demonstrating commitment to sustainability can help win clients with similar goals. For corporations appealing to CSR-minded consumers, smart, green buildings are a striking, visual proof point of a great sustainability program and commitment to employee-centered workplaces.
  5. Smart buildings and sustainability add muscle to M&A. In mergers and acquisitions, a robust commitment to sustainability can make a real difference in retaining the best and brightest employees—the ones most likely to leave during the uncertainty that organizational change can create. Conversely, sustainability can also be an important differentiator for companies seeking to be acquired by a company that they respect and can trust.
  6. Shareholders are paying attention. The impact investment community is growing fast, representing more than one out of every six dollars under professional management in the United States in 2013. Across the board, investors are increasingly looking for companies with clearly stated sustainability agendas and successes. Of especial interest to shareholders are companies that fuse sustainable business practices with sustainability-driven service offerings.

The key to winning top-down support

CEOs are increasingly jumping on board the sustainability train. But how can top leaders bring the rest of their leadership teams on board, too?

At JLL, we’re starting with establishing a clear understanding of what sustainability means at our company. “Our goal in a year or two is to be able to ask anyone in any office or at a client site about what sustainability means to them – and us—and getting answers that are consistent, understandable and actionable,” says Dyer. “We also want employees to understand how they can contribute.”

Dyer advises senior leaders to share the vision with others, and empower them to contribute. In many cases, department heads are under extreme pressure to deliver specific business results, and anything they may perceive as getting in the way of the core job is superfluous. Sustainability champions must show these leaders how sustainability is not only an imperative for the company's economics, but also something that will be of practical use to their work. Use metrics to support the case, and to translate the agenda into dollars and cents.

When the full leadership team can appreciate the broad value of running buildings better and more efficiently, even the grandest of green visions can become reality.