The performance frontier: innovating for a sustainable strategy

Harv Bus Rev. 2013 May;91(5):50-6, 58, 60, 150.


A mishmash of sustainability tactics does not add up to a sustainable strategy. Too often, companies launch sustainability programs with the hope that they'll be financially rewarded for doing good, even when those programs aren't relevant to their strategy and operations. They fail to understand the trade-offs between financial performance and performance on environmental, social, and governance (ESG) issues. Improving one typically comes at a cost to the other. But it doesn't have to be this way. It's possible to simultaneously boost both financial and ESG performance-if you focus strategically on issues that are the most "material" to shareholder value, and you develop major innovations in products, processes, and business models that prioritize those concerns. Maps being developed by the Sustainability Accounting Standards Board, which rank the materiality of 43 issues for 88 industries, can provide valuable guidance. And broad initiatives undertaken by three companies-Natura, Dow Chemical, and CLP Group-demonstrate the kind of innovations that will push performance into new territory. Communicating the benefits to stakeholders is also critical, which is why integrated reports, which combine financial and ESG reporting, are now gaining in popularity.

MeSH terms

  • Commerce
  • Conservation of Energy Resources
  • Conservation of Natural Resources*
  • Diffusion of Innovation*
  • Efficiency, Organizational
  • Planning Techniques
  • Renewable Energy
  • United States