It’s a common misconception that prioritising sustainability is something companies do out of the goodness of their hearts.
“In much of northern Europe, particularly Scandinavia, we have a somewhat naive view of sustainability work. That you do it because it’s the right thing to do. Perhaps it’s a part of our Lutheran heritage, striving to be virtuous for virtue’s sake. But sensible companies see it as a way to make money.”
Grankvist describes how an international mining company brought that message home to him. “I met their marketing manager in New York, and she told me about their successful project to reduce the number of deaths in their mines. A very noble and worthy cause, I thought in my typical Swedish mindset. However, I soon felt foolish when she explained the company’s motivation: Digging a body out of the rubble takes days and costs a lot of money in terms of lost production time and unused equipment.”
Another example is an oil company replacing its pipelines to reduce the risk of leakage. Oil is simply too expensive to be leaked onto the tundra. The polar bears’ welfare is just an added bonus.
“If it’s possible to conserve resources whilst avoiding poisoning the world and still come in on budget – then of course we’ll do it!”
The US office furniture manufacturer Steelcase became a pioneer in its sector when it decided to clean up its textile dyes.
“They analysed every substance and slashed the list from 800 dyes to just 34 that were all environmentally defensible. As I recall, they were even edible, and still included every colour of the rainbow. They also consulted one of those famous Swiss analytical institutes and found that the local watercourses get less polluted when the dye process occurs upstream rather than downstream. Very smart!”
There are loads of examples like this. IKEA, famed for its flatpack furniture, switched to lightweight recyclable cardboard pallets instead of wooden ones, saving valuable volume and weight in transit. Then there was UPS, which redrew its delivery routes in New York so that its vans only make right turns.
“By eliminating left turns, you avoid idling at red lights, which saves time and minimises exhaust fumes. Not only can they deliver more parcels, they also save big money on fuel. So stop looking for ‘sustainability’ and ‘profitability’ solutions – if you look at resources instead, you’ll find all three!”