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The Sweet Spot of Sustainability Strategy

Today's fringe issues in the sustainability world often become tomorrow's mainstream and generic market expectations, writes Gregory Unruh of George Mason University. Between these two extremes lies a third territory, which Unruh calls "strategic." "It is in this strategic territory that proactive companies have the best opportunity to influence the sustainability standards for their industry," he writes.

Unruh offers a "quick and dirty" technique for companies to assess whether a particular sustainability issue is strategic or generic. He calls this technique "Sustainability Triage," and describes the three questions that companies must ask themselves. He also provides tactics for addressing both generic and strategic sustainability issues.

One example of how a company took a proactive approach to a sustainability issue strategic to its business: PepsiCo, which knew that its snack chip bags that were crumpled up in parks and along roadsides amounted to "branded litter." PepsiCo's decision: Lead the way in looking for compostable bags that would biodegrade. After some twists and turns in introducing the packaging with its SunChips line, the new package was a success.

"By being the first among its competitors to introduce a compostable snack bag, PepsiCo staked out a first-mover advantage on an issue strategically important to the company," Unruh writes.

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