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Beyond shared value – building the business case for long-term sustainability?18th May 2012 by Amanda Long
The concept of 'shared value', as set out by Michael Porter and Mark Kramer in Harvard Business Review last year, is a strong starting point for building the business case for sustainability: that long-term sustainability relates to business creating economic value in a way that also adds value for society by addressing its needs and challenges. The list of high or worthwhile achievers in this area is growing annually, which is good news.
However, while the the concept of 'shared value' helps to move the debate forward, context is critical in this discussion. As austerity bites even deeper into society and resources become scarcer, then the reality of the need to change fundamentally our approach to business in this age of transformation is ever more urgent. I believe the focus for business needs increasingly to be on how business can help create more sustainable communities by making it easy for customers to live more sustainable lives, thereby helping to build stronger, more sustainable markets and there being no separation between what is termed as 'business value' and 'social value'. When Unilever CEO Paul Polman held the one-year review for its Sustainable Living Plan in April, he talked of going beyond 'shared value' and responding more directly to the needs of a frugal resource-challenged society first. So some of the big players do understand that a real business model shift is required, although delivering on this in mainstream business is still 'a work in progress'.
I believe sustainability must increasingly mean businesses focusing on what they can to do to help customers live more sustainably and thereby contribute to creating stronger markets – a clear sense of long-term sustainable business success. Driving the creation of sustainable communities and sustainable living is core to creating sustainable markets within which to prosper. Businesses can no longer operate outside the context of a society with limited resources and hope for long-term sustainability. But when they work within that society, they can take advantage of the opportunities to become the life support of nations for the long term: for example, by moving from simply supplying food to helping people eat better and reduce waste.
By Amanda Long
CEO, Corporate Culture