A Sustaining Tale

Jan 10, 2013 1:45 PM ET
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FedEx Blog: EarthSmart

by Mitch Jackson

Triumph over the tasks encountered
Be an assertive protagonist to meet the challenge
Use ingenuity for problems that arise
Then, tell the story

Performance, Leadership, Innovation and Transparency are the building blocks of Practical Environmentalism, which I define as strategic and transformational environmental stewardship that adds tangible value in the effort to be more responsible. I have written about this concept quite a bit in the past since it is the fundamental foundation that we employ in focusing upon our sustainability program. One of these earlier pieces is the following:

Chapter 1:
But, why are these building blocks so important? Skeptics might say that there is nothing special about the concepts of performance, leadership, innovation and transparency as it relates to sustainability. They might say that this could be applied to any aspect of business. They might emphatically declare that these foundational elements, in fact, should be used in other aspects of business. They might go further and state that they are currently used in the day-to-day aspects of business. And, my response - yes, exactly right. They are aspects of good business in general. They are employed by responsible, future-focused firms now. They are not specific to sustainability - nor should they be. They are foundational elements of trustworthy business. Period.

  • Companies perform in order to better serve their customers, provide returns to their shareholders and reward their team members.
  • Companies often take leadership positions in issues that they are impacting or in which they have a presence - sometimes through associations, sometimes individually.
  • Firms innovate in order to stay relevant, profitable and competitive in this increasingly global marketplace.
  • And, they provide information, such as financial information and guidance. Publicly-traded firms also hold shareholder meetings.

None of four building blocks are specific to sustainability. And, yet, all of them relate to sustainability. And, that should be by design.One of the goals of sustainability professionals is to integrate their sustainability programs into the organizations for whom they work. Integrate and influence. Rather than convert. They're different. So, if one is seeking to integrate sustainability into an organization, the foundational elements for the program should be based on something that also works for the other aspects of responsible business. These four building blocks do this holistically. They comprise and tell the story.

Chapter 2:
But, just as other aspects of a company's business is never about its transparency - telling its story - alone, neither should it be a company's sustainability sole focus. This, too, is a trap, but a very enticing trap since this is almost always how companies are rated and recognized, and from where one hears the sirens' song.

But, I cannot help but think about it within the context of Milton Friedman's view that the sole social responsibility of business is to increase its profits, or an environmentalist's solitary focus upon the environment to the exclusion of profit, or other isolated approaches. They are silos. They are rigid constructs. They are only partially told tales. They limit possibilities. They limit imagination. They do not inspire or hold our interest for the narrative. They weaken the plot. And, as a result, I believe they lessen the achievements.

Take action. Lead, where appropriate. Change what's possible along the journey. And, only then, write it down. Otherwise, what story is there to tell?