FacebookFacebook icon TwitterTwitter icon LinkedInLinkedIn icon Email

Brain circuits

Six steps to moving towards a sustainable business

Published 1 July 2021 in Brain circuits • 2 min read

A sustainable business is one that is able to make positive trade-offs between economic, environmental and social issues. Companies do this by balancing people, profit and the planet, and it’s clearly a requirement of a successful business, but many are still wondering how to make this happen. We have six concrete steps to help: 

Make sure your strategy is aligned with the megatrend. 

Go beyond simply trying to reduce your carbon footprint, and really make sure your company’s purpose and ESG are at the forefront of your strategy. For example, rather than trying to offset your use of fossil fuels by reducing your footprint elsewhere, figure out how to move away from them entirely. 

Make sure you walk the talk. 

Financial institutions, investors and customers are more interested in what you do than what you say. So make sure your promises are backed up with credible, measurable actions. 

Make the business case for sustainability. 

If you fail to make a clear business case for your shift to sustainable strategy, it will be difficult to scale it and you will likely lose out on opportunities, so make sure you actually lay out a plan for how sustainability will help drive your success. 

Focus on the material issues. 

You need to define what is most critical to your business. A materiality assessment can unlock improvement and commitment in large organizations.  

Include sustainability in all key functions. 

Every function today should have a stake in sustainability. The chief financial officer needs to determine how to best report on ESG and how to respond to investor pressures. The chief marketing officer needs to recognize and address new customer demands. The head of operations needs to reduce waste, create circular solutions and be lean in terms of carbon footprint. The chief human resources officer needs to address how to offer support to employees and local societies where the company operates. 

Align sustainability with purpose. 

By aligning sustainability with your purpose, you not only reveal the positive societal contributions that you are making, but you also realize how easily you could do more.   

Making the paradigm shift to put sustainability at the center of your business shouldn’t be difficult. Remember, it’s not only better for your bottom line, it’s better for everyone. 


Knut Haanaes

Knut Haanaes

Lundin Chair Professor of Sustainability at IMD

Knut Haanaes is a former Dean of the Global Leadership Institute at the World Economic Forum. At IMD he teaches in many of the key programs including the MBA, EMBA, and other executive programs. He is Program Co-Director of the new Leading Sustainable Business Transformation program and the Driving Sustainability from the Boardroom program. His research interests are related to strategy, digital transformation, and sustainability.

James Henderson

James E. Henderson

Professor of Strategic Management at IMD

James E. Henderson is Professor of Strategic Management at IMD, Program Co-Director of the Leading Sustainable Business Transformation program, and Program Director of the Strategic Partnership course. He helps companies achieve and sustain their competitive advantage either at a business unit, corporate, or global level through directing custom specific executive programs, facilitating strategy workshops, or teaching MBAs and executives.


Learn Brain Circuits

Join us for daily exercises focusing on issues from team building to developing an actionable sustainability plan to personal development. Go on - they only take five minutes.
Read more 

Explore Leadership

What makes a great leader? Do you need charisma? How do you inspire your team? Our experts offer actionable insights through first-person narratives, behind-the-scenes interviews and The Help Desk.
Read more

Join Membership

Log in here to join in the conversation with the I by IMD community. Your subscription grants you access to the quarterly magazine plus daily articles, videos, podcasts and learning exercises.
Sign up

You have 4 of 5 articles left to read.