“Be the Change you want to see in the world“ – Mahatma Gandhi

In a previous post, I shared a survey done by Leapfrog Sustainability of over 250 senior business executives worldwide on their views of the relationship between sustainable business and commercial growth.  A whopping 78% of businesses agreed that sustainability is vital to the future growth of their business and 83% viewed spending on sustainable initiatives as an investment rather than a cost.

Those numbers certainly suggest that the need to develop sustainable business practices is definitely on the radar for most organizations.  However, sustainability consultant and former federal Green Party leader Jim Harris, in his October address at the CIMA Canada Conference 2012, noted that this is not the case.  In mid-December, Financial Post reporter Dan Ovsey spoke with Mr. Harris to get his views on what is still preventing businesses from adopting strategies for sustainability.  A transcript of the interview is available online .

In the interview, Harris identified numerous positive examples of how organizations can recognize significant savings, both financial and environmental.  However these proposed changes are often be thwarted because of the up-front capital and profound operational change they perhaps involve.

Harris highlighted the over $500M in savings IBM recognized over a five year period by taking applications on 3,900 Wintel servers with low utilization rates of less than 10% and putting them on 33 mainframes with utilization rates of over 80%. This modification allowed the company to cut electricity costs by more than 80%; they cut the square footage required in their data centres by more than 85% and reduced their licensing costs by 99% because they no longer required operating and anti-virus systems on each of those servers.

So why aren’t other companies following suit? Well, Harris suggested that perhaps it is because in companies of this size you are asking the the head of one department to take on all the cost and risk of change while some other department gets the financial benefit.  In this case, the transition of applications would be implemented by IT department and therefore all costs associated with it would come out of that department’s budget.  In addition any risks associated with the conversion, which in one of this magnitude would include loss or corruption of data, breach of security and/or downtime of systems, would also be assumed by this department. What this department would not see however, would be any financial gain that came from the conversion such as electricity savings.  That would go to the facilities department.

So how and why would organizations foster and develop more sustainable business practices.  In his book, The Next Sustainability Wave, Bob Willard focuses on two drivers, 1) a compelling business case and 2) threatening market forces, that are currently igniting the need for change and providing a vision of business success if the transition to sustainable operations is managed properly.

Bob has written numerous books and papers on the business value of corporate sustainability strategies.  On January 17th, 2013, he will be coming to the Peterborough Holiday Inn to discuss the Business Case for Sustainability.  He will be joined by a group of local businesses who will participate in a panel discussion about how sustainable business practices have enhanced their operations. Tickets are available online or by calling Brigid Ayotte at 705-743-0777 ext. 2160