Sustainability Needs a Winning Team

When Theo Epstein arrived in Chicago six years ago to revamp the Chicago Cubs, the first thing he did was review how the organization was being operated and determine where there were opportunities to turn things around. After all, the Cubbies had 101 losses in 2012, and a turnaround did not appear to be coming anytime soon.

But the turnaround did come. In 2016, the Cubbies had 101 victories and went on to win the World Series. According to Epstein, in order to make a difference he had to build “a foundation of sustained success,” a comment rarely heard at Wrigley Field.

He also addressed the “curse” that many on the team, as well as their fans, have long believed. “Epstein’s most straightforward comment at the outset of his presidency was that the Cubs had only themselves to blame for their inadequacies, not any curses,” wrote Chicago Tribune sports journalist Paul Sullivan. “[Epstein] laid out a game plan and stuck to it.”

The rest, as they say, is history.

What Epstein accomplished with the Cubs can be replicated in the business world. In sports, as in business, it is a well-thought-out game plan that has long-term success. This is exactly what business leaders in the jansan industry must realize.

Businesses with successful sustainability initiatives form winning teams, have strategic game plans, and eventually enjoy the fruits of their efforts. This includes such things as developing leaner, more efficient, and more cost-effective business operations; attracting and retaining higher-caliber employees with better wages and benefits; and having a commitment to the community and the world.

And to really win when it comes to sustainability, a team must address all three pillars of sustainability: people, planet, and profits. Let’s look at these pillars in a more industry-focused manner.

The “Profits” Game Plan in the Jansan Industry

We’ll examine profits first because—as important as people and planet are—most of those in leadership positions are going to question whether promoting sustainability will pay off financially. This is true whether the organization is a for-profit or a not-for-profit entity. The only real difference between the two is what they do with the profits.

As to whether sustainability initiatives will improve profits, the answer is yes and no.

In many cases, a jansan company implementing sustainability initiatives may need to invest in new equipment as well as new manufacturing or operating procedures. This typically costs money, and usually when businesses in our industry (or any industry, for that matter) invest in new equipment, they want to see financial benefits right around the corner.

This immediate return on investment may not happen when it comes to sustainability, so we have to develop an entirely new mind-set, or game plan, when it comes to costs and savings. In some cases, businesses may even need to take a leap of faith that their investment will pay off. In most cases, it will, but to realize those cost benefits, the game plan may require a company to do some reinvention. This means understanding that many of the ways organizations have operated for decades are simply not going to work in a world with limitations on resources and the need to recycle and reuse whenever and wherever possible.

The “Planet” Game Plan

As just mentioned, many organizations are now working in a world of increasing limitations when it comes to natural resources. Let’s say our company makes paper products such as toilet paper. For decades, we have had few concerns about cutting down trees in order to get the finest and freshest fibers needed to make soft toilet paper.

This is simply no longer a sustainable business model. It is going to become more costly going forward, making our toilet paper too expensive for the customer. Plus, with more and more managed forests around the globe, we may not have access to the number of trees necessary for our business model to succeed.

A winning “planet” game plan in this scenario means our paper company must wean itself from depending on this natural resource. Our team must become more innovative, developing technologies and manufacturing methods that produce toilet paper that satisfies customers, is cost effective, and protects our business from diminishing natural resources. At least in this situation, I do not see how this company will survive if it does not reinvent itself and initiate these changes.

The “People” Game Plan

We have already addressed some of the costs of sustainability initiatives, and the “people” game plan likely will require more investments, this time in human capital. For many jansan and other organizations, a winning strategy may also require significant reinvention when it comes to personnel.

This should not imply our industry is not treating its workers well. While there may be exceptions, most employers treat their staff fairly. The issue is, as an industry, we have to do more and take a longer view of our dealings with our workers, not only to reap the rewards of this pillar of sustainability, but also for the betterment of our companies and our entire industry.

As with winning sports teams that allocate large sums of money to the salaries of the best players, we in the jansan industry need a reliable, well-trained workforce, and in many situations, this means we may need to invest in our people, starting with wages. Several business leaders in many industries oppose raising the minimum wage. They say, for example, if we raise the minimum wage, we will have to raise the prices for our goods and services, which eventually will price us out of the market.

This might be true. But if higher wages result in our being able to attract and retain a more qualified and skilled workforce, worker productivity likely will increase, turnover will decrease, less new-worker training will be required, and our products and services will more often meet consistent customer satisfaction levels.

Furthermore, do we really think people will want to work for our companies in the coming years at minimum or below current minimum wages? And how about healthcare and advancement opportunities within the company? These benefits and opportunities create a more responsible, reliable, and hardworking workforce because employees make a commitment to their employers and the products or services the company offers.

All of these factors lead to greater customer loyalty, a better reputation in the industry, the ability to charge more for services, and, often, higher profits for the company.

The Sustainability Game Plan

Enjoying the benefits of sustainability requires development of a winning game plan, just like the ones we see in the sports world. Teams focus on their strengths and weaknesses as they work to become champions. But like these winning sports teams, we need one more thing if we are to be successful. We need the leadership of companies in our industry behind the program 100 percent. Sustainability is a commitment from the top down…and that’s when its many benefits are realized.