What are the biggest misunderstandings about startups

Sustainability: The three biggest misunderstandings in companies

A guest contribution by Carsten Meier, co-founder of intraprenör. The strategy consultancy advises corporations on how to implement sustainability in their business model and thus promote innovations. Intraprenör emerged from research at the University of the Arts in Berlin and works on the principle of social intrapreneurship. On their blog, the founders regularly write about changes in the economy due to sustainability and social innovations.

Sustainability is on everyone's lips and companies seem to have found a new favorite with this word. It's nice to see how sustainability departments spring up in a very short time to bring the topic the necessary relevance. Deutsche Bank, Volkswagen, RWE: All of them now have their own Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) department and develop thick tomes for the public once a year.

On closer inspection, however, the highly praised sustainability turns out to be more of a decorative accessory to the core business. The management of the sustainability department is usually not part of the important strategic meetings in the company - long-term decisions are made by others.

But there are also other companies that have made sustainability their core. GLS Bank has specialized in investing in social and ecological projects and has been able to expand its customer base very successfully in recent years. A few years ago, frozen products manufacturer frosta switched its product development completely to sustainable ingredients and was able to compete against cheap competitors.

But obviously many companies have not yet understood the potential of sustainability in terms of long-term business model development. Sustainable commitment can not only bring about ecological and social innovations. If understood correctly, it can enable economic progress in the company, open up new markets and innovate products.

The secret of green success The goal of strategic sustainability must therefore be to achieve “shared value”. Because a value that is economic, ecological and social has outstanding clout within a market and thus enormous potential for a competitive advantage. In order to enable this "shared value", companies have to leave behind some misunderstandings and get rid of entrenched opinions about sustainability.

Misunderstanding 1: "Our customers are not interested in sustainability."

At the end of last year, Wirtschaftswoche reported on a study by the consulting firm Reputation Institute, which found that 60% of the consumers surveyed let companies fail in terms of sustainability despite corporate social responsibility. As a result of such studies, many managers often fall into the trap of not attesting that their customers are interested in sustainability - especially if their products do not appeal to the upscale educated bourgeoisie.

On closer and more intensive research, however, it becomes apparent that every customer actually has an interest in and needs in sustainability. But if you simply ask "Is sustainability important to you?" Or "Would you pay more for organic products?", You are guaranteed not to get the correct answers. Because every customer defines the term sustainability according to their own taste. The customer needs must therefore be filtered through qualitative methods and identified in the customer's environment. The same applies to the strategic orientation of sustainability as to the basic theories of strategic marketing: customer needs must be found and then individually addressed.

Such research can then also lead to effective publicity measures: The Swiss supermarket chain Migros launched “Generation M” - a portal where consumers can pass on their ideas to the company and thus encourage management to make business promises. In the meantime, the company has started several projects - for example, some of the food transports have been switched to rail and by the end of the year all plastic bottles should be returned to the store and recycled.

Misunderstanding 2: "Sustainability has to look like sustainability."

Anyone who clicks through various websites in the field of sustainability or analyzes the numerous advertisements quickly notices that the same motifs are always played here. In addition to happy children in nature, a beautiful eco-paper cut look and romantic phrases, some companies forget that sustainability is much more than just brown and green.

Sustainability can and must be as individual and different as companies themselves are. An eco image doesn't suit everyone - but sustainability does. Sustainability, which is specially tailored to the company, enables differentiation from competitors. Sustainability that suits companies is more transparent and authentic for customers. And where “green” PR campaigns give way to lived sustainability, allegations about “green washing” will find no breeding ground.

Misunderstanding 3: "My employees are already annoyed by the topic."

Often it seems as if sustainability is internally one of the things that “just have to be done” and that are, above all, two things: time-consuming and unnecessary. Here, too, the fallacy arises that we no longer want to expect sustainability from our employees. The mistake is not the nerve potential of the topic, but the way of implementation: Instead of implementing developed sustainability values ​​"top-down", individual sustainability positions should be developed together with the employees.

According to a study by the “Sustainable Living and Working” project, they are very much interested in the implementation of personal values ​​in the workplace. A study sponsored by Wirtschaftswoche on what top companies do differently also showed that highly motivated employees are usually twice as innovative and therefore drive the company forward faster and more effectively.

The HR department therefore has the greatest potential to become the engine of sustainable development in the company. The key word for this is: intrapreneurship. Companies have to train their employees to become intrapreneurs - in other words, employees who identify with the employer in terms of content and emotions and who therefore want to shape “their” company for the future with motivation, leadership and a spirit of innovation.

In this way, with a change of perspective within the sustainability commitment away from the pressure of consumer organizations such as Greenpeace and Co. to an orientation towards customers and employees, a real sustainable innovation is possible that creates shared value - and thus companies become pioneers in the market can be.

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