Creative thinking: the key to a sustainable futureDecember 2012
The days of CSR are over. Today’s leading businesses commit to big sustainability ambitions that radically reshape why they exist, what they do and how they do it. The key challenge is to make this ambition a real strategic priority. The answer is to design the ambition to help solve the company’s most material business to make it credible, focused and viable.
But materiality isn’t the only thing that makes big ambitions work. The other factor is creativity, and this is because:
- The ambition is so big a business can’t do it alone. If it can be delivered via the company’s existing processes, structures and relationships, then the ambition isn’t big enough. Meeting stretching, long-term targets requires every employee to make sustainability a part of what they do. Developing credible, transformational solutions can only happen by partnering with external experts, and especially those that disagree with you. This means inspiring people, and that’s where creativity comes in: ideas people can believe in – not a boring, complicated plan. Redesigning businesses to deal with the impact of what Paul Gilding calls the ‘great disruption’ requires creative collaboration. Businesses that think they can do this alone will not succeed – just ask Unilever’s campaigning CEO Paul Polman.
- Ambition means being famous for something. Signing up to a big ambition comes with responsibility for delivering it. Whether it’s Kingfisher becoming net positive or IBM’s vision for a smarter planet, companies must commit to the sustainability area that they can lead. Bringing the ambition to life through a creative concept means the business can ‘own’ its commitment by giving it meaning, framed by a visual identity that works with its brand. The way a business talks about it should be consistent, honest and remarkable. Creativity is the ticket to being recognised and valued for making a commitment, provided it’s backed up by real action. Otherwise, it’ll be just the latest ‘Beyond Petroleum’.
- Ambition and positivity go hand in hand. The big ambition is the company’s roadmap. It’s how sustainability transforms serious challenges into long-term solutions. It is by nature a bold, focused vision. It also means taking a creative, positive approach to how it is expressed because hope, a sense of progress and excitement about tomorrow sells.
It’s easy to spot the companies that still see sustainability as a reputational exercise or a problem to avoid. Their strategies don’t stack up – and neither does their performance. The worst laggards are already becoming yesterday’s failed businesses because they resist sustainability and see it as a threat.
Companies that invest the time to define their big ambitions today will be the most resilient outliers in ten years’ time. History shows those who neglect creativity will end up with commitments nobody wants to get involved in. Creativity inspires collaboration, wins recognition and shifts sustainability from risk to opportunity. Creativity makes big ambitions work.
Natalya Sverjensky is senior sustainability strategist at Futerra
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