A Model for Self-Diagnosing Sustainability

One size does not fit all. It’s true for shoes and it’s true for sustainability. Different companies have different levels of impact on and different levels of expectation from society. That’s why we developed the CollaborateUp Sustainability Maturity Model (SMM): to help companies make rational, cost-benefit based decisions about how, when, and where to invest in sustainability.


Figure 1: Sustainability Maturity Model


The SMM provides a quick, visual tool that decision-makers can use to determine their sustainability investments based on what’s expected of them, where they are today, and where they want to go. The SMM helps firms measure societal expectations and then assess their need to make progress on specific social, economic, and environmental sustainability programs. The recently released CollaborateUp Sustainability Maturity Model Report retrospectively applies the SMM to six real world case studies to analyze ROI across six layers of sustainability integration. The report applies the SMM to assess the effectiveness of The Dow Chemical Company (Dow), General Electric (GE), McDonalds, IBM, Unilever, and Walmart’s endeavors.


Readers of the report can use these case studies to start their own self-assessment. Based on where your firm falls on the spectrum of societal expectations, you can determine how much to invest in different layers of sustainability. If your firm has limited potential negative impact on society or the natural environment, you should naturally invest less in sustainability (further to the left on the horizontal axis of the SMM). As your impact and expectation grow, your investments and integration may increase (further to the right on the horizontal axis of the SMM), but even then should be targeted at the specific layers that will deliver the greatest ROI (up or down on the vertical axis of the SMM).


Figure 2: Sustainability Maturity Model Top Layer


As sustainability continues to grow into a core component of business, using defined KPIs is essential. The SMM provides insight on how to set these measures by defining six layers of integration that companies should consider when implementing and managing sustainability programs: strategy, culture and values, governance, process and procedure, training, and design and usage. Programs should be considered in the context of their ability to not only do “less bad” for society and the environment, but also do “more good” by adding value across each company’s value chain. This model functions as a self-assessment tool that can be used to further integrate sustainability through internal efforts and external commitments.


Key highlights of the report include:

Strong corporate citizenship programs need organizational processes: Once these processes are internalized, companies can begin delivering real value to their stakeholders since sustainability becomes a core business function.

External commitments enhance credibility of efforts: By utilizing the platforms of other civil organizations, such as the Clinton Global Initiative or the Millennium Development Goals, companies enhance their efforts and enact measurable change.

Companies become a catalytic partner to scale existing efforts: Companies want to build upon existing and successful frameworks, working collaboratively with organizations to bring them to scale.

Enhancing existing processes and products accelerates shared value creation: When executed correctly, sustainability programs become a win-win partnership. For this to occur, the sustainability-related project must lie within the company’s expertise.  


Steps you can take now to revamp your sustainability program:

  1. Take 5 minutes to diagnose your company level of sustainability maturity. Mark off where you fit on the vertical and horizontal axis.
  2. Determine what level of sustainability is right for your company. Consider what people expect of your company and what you expect of yourselves.
  3. Take the pulse. If your approach needs to change, talk with a few colleagues about this report, sustainability goals, and resources you have available.
  4. Set a course. Look at the situations faced by the six companies covered in the report and how they made sustainability programs work for them to deliver real value in the medium- and long-term. Consider what steps you might take to move up and/or to the right on the SMM.


See what companies are really doing in real-time. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation’s annual Sustainability Forum, Circular Economy: Unleashing New Business Value, brings corporate and NGO leaders together to put circular economy principles into action. Circular economy principles promise to be cost and planet savers, but now’s the time to put them into production. Early bird registration ends on Tuesday. Register now: https://www.regonline.com/Register/Checkin.aspx?EventID=1664827.


Reach out for help from CollaborateUp. Our mission is to create a cadre of individuals who are armed, dangerous, and on fire when it comes to tackling our world’s biggest challenges. The SMM is one of our open-source tools that we offer to you and the world to become more effective sustainability leaders. If you’d like to learn more about how to use these tools, come to CollaborateUp Academy or contact us for more information about the additional underlying SMM tools, templates, and services we offer.


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