( This Blog first appeared as a blog on the Paints and Coatings Industry website)
In a recent article by Kristin Johansson on the PCI blog, she reviewed the market drivers in the coatings industry and commented that the sustainability is now less overt and more embedded within companies. Undoubtedly this is true however you may feel there is a ‘but’ coming up!
It is true that sustainability is more embedded but my view is that many companies are not taking the opportunity to take full advantage of sustainability as a positive driver. Or even worse they can allow their sustainability damage their reputation. In my experience I see companies approach sustainability in broadly one of 3 ways:

Risk Mitigation

A company may do what they need to do to avoid reputational damage or legal challenge. An example of this from another industry would be where a clothing or apparel business ensures that they have no child labour in their supply chain in order to avoid adverse consumer reaction. This approach will not give the business any advantage but reduce the risk of negative impacts. It will also tend to be a ‘behind the scenes’ strategy rather than a very public facing one.  In coatings terms it may be as simple as having a sustainability page on the website. It says that the company is doing something but really it  is there to avoid any accusations that the company is not doing anything!

Tactical


This is where a company may do an activity that takes advantage of a sustainability opportunity but is really only skin deep. An example here would be to offer a ‘green’ product in their coatings portfolio alongside the other products, some of which may be far from ‘sustainable’. Sustainability is on the surface but does not seem to penetrate other areas of the company, strategy or value chain.

Strategic


This is where the sustainability approach is aligned strongly with, and integrated into, the business strategy. Sustainability will appear in many functions of the company and will be considered along the entire value chain. Yes, the company may offer an overt ‘sustainable’ product offer, but these products will address the key sustainability challenges of that market sector. It also goes further. It will look at all of its impacts up and down the value chain – even in areas outside of their direct control. It will set targets and monitor progress.

In my opinion there is only one logical approach and that is the third option. This describes a leadership stance and there are no reasons why small or large companies shouldn’t adopt this. And the good news is that it pays off financially as well as contributing to the sustainability of our world. Robecco Sam (the company that compiles the Dow Jones Sustainability Index) published a graph:

You can find the whole analysis and original graph  here

The graph shows that shows that the share price of ‘sustainability leaders’ (those that adopt the third option I described) consistently outperform the ‘sustainability laggards’ (those companies adopting the first and second approach).

So… sustainability is often embedded now in coatings companies. They key question is ‘is it embedded well’. Perhaps it is time to review our sustainability strategies with a critical eye.