Grey to Green sustainability – revisited

Grey to GreenWhere are you on the Grey to Green spectrum is a question I often ask at sustainability and CSR sessions with clients or in workshops.

Cornucopian Thinking: The glass that will always refills itself no matter what we do. Indeed the natural and financial environment will turn full circle and everything will be ok again. In fact we need do nothing different now as some emerging technology (carbon capture perhaps?) will make all of our problems go away. And if our customers and staff don’t like the way we operate, then, well, there are always the competition to turn to.

Accommodationalist Thinking: To accommodate the minimum, often to stay within the law, comply with ISO standards and satisfy the minimum requirements of our customers and staff. A key to this pattern of thinking is where sustainability and CSR sits within the organisation. Sitting alongside Health and Safety functions (for convenience) then it will always remain a bolt-on, which makes it difficult to move to a role that has a voice at a board level.

Foresight Thinking: Thinking based on the premise sustainability makes good business sense. Moving beyond the minimum and starting to embed CSR within the organisation. CSR and sustainability, as a function, sits at the centre of the organisation, often a dedicated CSR post with a voice at board level. Business impact understanding goes beyond the environmental and includes assessments on, for example, diversity or equality impact.

Restorative Thinking: Stems from the realisation of a greater holistic good as the driver for CSR approaches, alongside a recognition of connection with nature or the planet. There is a growing number of businesses in this thinking, epitomised for example by the 1% for the Planet group of organisations. In fact, I often give a copy of or recommend reading Yvon Chouinard’s Let My People Go Surfing to those I work with.

The Living Building Challenge, the most rigorous of green building certification schemes is firmly based on restorative thinking, doing more good – not just doing less bad.

There is a growing body of evidence linking good CSR and sustainability thinking to good business sense, but perhaps no one has summed this up so brilliantly and simply as Yvon Chouinard stated at Patagonia: “every time we do the right thing for the planet we make a profit.”

Tipping the Point

Somewhere along this grey to green spectrum there is a tipping point, where the switch from minimising the bad to maximising the good kicks in. I’d like to think of this as salutogenesis for sustainability and CSR. (Salutogenesis is an emerging and important school of thought within health care and increasingly within social well being that makes the switch from a focus on what makes us ill to a focus on what makes us stay healthy.)

In need of ideas on moving your business sustainability from grey to green?  Join in on the conversation on Twitter, subscribe to this blog (see right  hand column) or get in touch

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