Success is Good, But Don't Forget to Embrace Sustainability Organizations must reconceptualise sustainability as a means to transform; not only meeting the needs of society and the environment, but also creating a sustainable competitive advantage

By Belinda Wade

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The face of sustainability is changing. Having long been pushed low on the priority list for many organizations, embracing sustainability is fast becoming a strategic imperative rather than an operational choice.

There are still plenty of management teams that are hesitant to consider and implement sustainability practices. But they should realize the potential risk of failing to consider environmental factors and the strategic need to incorporate the changing environment in their decision-making processes.

More than 75 per cent of Australians now accept the reality of climate change, and younger generations are increasingly demanding action to be taken. As a result, it's driving action across the globe.

So, how can organizations promote strategic sustainability?

Connect With Environment

The ability of a manager to detect, prepare for and take advantage of coming changes on behalf of an organization is critical. From the disruption of new technology and population growth, to the impact of climate change, resource constraints and new business models, sustainability is a wicked challenge. Organizations must connect with their internal and external environment to align with industry norms and respond to consumer demand.

Think Strategically

Sustainability is no longer limited to sorting out and recycling from rubbish for improving efficiency; it's about being strategic. Organizations need to consider all levels of their business and they must reconceptualize sustainability as a means to transform; not only meeting the needs of society and the environment but also creating a sustainable competitive advantage. Brisbane Airport Corporation recently incorporated potential climate change impacts in their new runway design by accounting for rising sea levels. They are also collaborating with the University of Queensland, Virgin and Queensland State Development in preparation for aviation fuel price rises resulting from carbon pricing, by working with to establish a biofuels' market.

Nurture Innovation

Opportunities for innovation can be found across an organization, in different ways and at multiple levels. The entire life of a product should be considered as a "cycle"— from the resources used and production processes adopted, to the operation of the finished product, its lifespan as well as disposal options. Designing for longevity or remanufacturing should be considered, which has implications for new business models. To reach a target of 100 per cent utilization of its extracted sandstone resource, Queensland company Rock Trade innovated the product design, process and system levels to bring new products to market. They developed new products from 100 per cent of their resources, up from a previous level of 20 per cent.

Create the Right Culture

Culture and strategy need to be married together to promote sustainable change. Having the key corporate team onboard is critical, and is later supported by visible commitments led by internal "champions" from small scale investments in recycling and efficiency investments to wellbeing programs and reporting that helps in shaping the company for more strategic changes.

Maintain Resilience

The future is always uncertain, but when the implications of climate change are combined with the pressure of increasing populations and urbanization, organizations must expect the unexpected. Businesses need to adopt a structured approach to consider what the future may hold by incorporating tools such as scenario planning.

Social, environmental and regulatory pressures are combining to influence organizational decision making. It's time to recognize that sustainability is not just a pretty facade. When incorporated into strategic planning, sustainability offers potential value for an organization's competitive future.

Belinda Wade

Lecturer (Strategy), University of Queensland Business School


Belinda is a lecturer within the Strategy Discipline of the University of Queensland Business School and co-leader of the research theme - Business Sustainability Initiative: Building Resilience and Adapting to Change. Belinda’s teaching closely follows her research agenda which examines organizational adaptation to sustainability issues. Recent research has highlighted decarbonising actions taken within contrasting Australian industry sectors and the dynamic capabilities which can promote greater adaptation to market changes related to the growing pressure to decarbonise the Australian economy.

On a professional level, Belinda has worked extensively within the marketing and trading areas of major energy providers, in a mix of commercial analytical, trading and managerial roles in both traditional energy and environmental product markets.

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