Embedding Sustainability within Your Organization: 7 Steps

by | Sep 18, 2015

VF Corp logo reducedThis article is sponsored by VF Corporation.
The road to incorporating sustainability management into a company’s daily processes can seem slow, incremental and difficult, but at scale, incremental changes can be truly transformational. In fact, a small change in a large company can create a ripple effect throughout an entire industry.

But smart companies know that moving toward sustainability simply as a way of improving its environmental impact, without balancing such moves with the rest of the goals within a company’s business plan, can be risky. “Our task is to build a program where every element delivers value to our brands and consumers” in addition to living in balance with the planet, says Letitia Webster, senior director of global corporate sustainability for VF Corporation.

In the Environmental Leader 2015 Insider Knowledge Report, Webster shares other lessons that VF Corporation, a company with a portfolio of 30 brands including The North Face, Vans, Timberland and Wrangler — has learned during its efforts to respect the environment. These include:

Lesson #1. Sustainability, at the core, is about change management. Change is not linear. It’s multi-dimensional, iterative, and messy. Embrace the change and the challenges that come with it.

Lesson #2. Transformational change takes vision. Leaders across the organization should be challenged to re-envision a new world – one with limited resources, water scarcity, increased populations and changing consumer expectations.

Lesson #3. Ask yourself: what are the opportunities within these challenges?

Lesson #4. Transitioning to a sustainable business model is a complex process. Identify a place to start. Generate momentum with “quick wins.”

Lesson #5. Build an infrastructure to enable decision-making, sharing, and scaling solutions across the organization.

Lesson #6. Flexibility to operate within an existing infrastructure is necessary for long-term success.

Lesson #7. Institutionalizing and accelerating change across a large organization requires deep integration and alignment.

“Meaningful progress through positive change is a team sport,” Webster adds. “True success requires understanding, support and enthusiasm from all levels, geographies and functions.”

By following these steps, VF is on track to meet its 2015 goal of reducing energy use from 2009 levels by five percent. The company is now powering 31 of its facilities in part with renewable energy, and the company’s brands produce more than 1,500 eco-friendly styles — making up 10% of total product sales — according to its first comprehensive global sustainability report, released in Oct., 2014.

At the same time that the company released its sustainability report, it announced a chemical management program, CHEM-IQ. Developed in collaboration with third-party experts, including the Natural Resources Defense Council, CHEM-IQ provides a scalable method for identifying and eliminating unwanted chemicals before they enter the manufacturing process, VF says.

To read more from VF Corporation on what it has learned during its sustainability journey, download the Environmental Leader 2015 Insider Knowledge Report.

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