1) What do you understand by the term sustainability?2) Should a business consider sustainability as part of its overall strategy or should it be treated simply as an environmental, a compliance with legal regulations, or a public relations matter? Please explain why or why not.3) How would you integrate and implement a sustainability initiative as part of the overall strategy?4) Should Narinex hire a CSO? If Yes should it be a full time position at the top management level or should it be the CEOs responsibility? If No why not?
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Should Sustainability Have a Seat in the
by Eric J. McNulty and Rupert Davis
Jennifer Brown, CEO of Narinex, an electronic components manufacturer based in Michigan, re-read the
news alert on her screen. The company had lost another major contract to Glistrom, a UK-based competitor
it had regularly beaten. She called out to her secretary. “Sally, I need Herb Tyler and Laura Dyson right
Losses like these were not just the normal ebb and flow of deal making, and Brown wanted input from her
COO, Tyler, and her CFO, Dyson. She was determined to keep Narinex on top.
With $3.2 billion dollars in revenue and operations in North America, Europe, and Asia, Narinex had
performed consistently well with Brown at the helm. A favorite of Wall Street analysts, it had kept costs
low even as it expanded into new lines and markets, and Brown was now regarded as both innovative and
hard-nosed. At her direction, Narinex had outsourced some of its R&D to bring new offerings to market
more quickly, and she had negotiated performance-based contracts that kept the supply chain lean and
mean. She had also sold the corporate jet and refused a company car, to show her commitment to limiting
Within 20 minutes Dyson and Tyler were waiting for Brown in her office. These senior managers were
accustomed to her urgent summons and the subsequent grilling. Tyler had also seen the Glistrom
announcement and knew Brown would be anxious. It was a multiyear deal potentially worth $50 million or
“I’ve already asked Ian to get competitive intelligence from his team,” Tyler said, referring to Ian Jones, the
VP of sales. “He did mention that Glistrom is generating buzz in the field.”
“‘Buzz’ doesn’t tell me much. How quickly can you two turn whatever he has into something we can act
on?” Brown demanded.
Tyler and Dyson exchanged a glance. “Can we have 24 hours?” Dyson asked.
With a nod, Brown sent them off to solve the Glistrom puzzle.
From the Mouths of Babes
At 9:00 the next evening, Brown was sitting at her kitchen counter with a bowl of tomato soup and a twopage memo from Tyler and Dyson. Their analysis of previous-versus-current RFPs highlighted one clear
area of concern: sustainability.
“Our initial research shows that we’re on target with pricing and terms. Anecdotal information suggests that
competitors are offering codevelopment of custom components, but we are confident we can match that.
Previous initiatives to outsource some R&D have connected Narinex to a great network of global designers.
The biggest change in the market is greater emphasis on sustainability: Some customers are looking beyond
compliance issues to how we’re handling waste, whether our suppliers pay fair wages, and even if we’ve
eliminated printed documentation and moved everything online. The U.S. federal government and WalMart have incorporated sustainability disclosures into their purchasing RFPs, and we believe the prevalence
of such disclosures will continue to grow. Glistrom recently hired its first chief sustainability officer (CSO),
possibly in response to these market pressures.”
“And what are we doing about it?” Brown wondered aloud. She examined the summary of sustainability
initiatives the company had already pursued: installing a green roof on its German plant to cut energy costs,
reducing packaging by a third, shifting the bulk of its international shipping to a vendor with the most fuel-
efficient air fleet, and, yes, moving all documentation online. She noted that some efforts had yielded
remarkably fast and solid paybacks; others would take years to confirm a certain ROI. “We are in
compliance with our manufacturing, but that target moves depending on the country of manufacture and
receipt,” the memo stated. “Where regulations are looser and customer specifications permit, we produce
goods with lower-cost substances that would not be acceptable in all regions.”
Putting down the memo, Brown turned to a report on Narinex’s environmental practices. It had been
prepared by none other than her 17-year-old granddaughter as a school assignment. Zoe had e-mailed it to
her a few days earlier with a short note: “Thanks for your help getting information for this, Nana. You
should read it. You weren’t the worst company we talked about, but you weren’t the best either! XOXO.”
The teenager’s analysis was refreshingly direct free of corporate politics and personal ambition. Zoe’s
top recommendation: Hire a CSO.
“From the mouths of babes,” Brown mused. She knew several other companies had appointed CSOs. She’d
generally resisted hiring a chief whatever officer to address the latest competitive challenge. But could
sustainability be different? She had to admit she was no expert. She texted Tyler and Dyson to ask for their
From the Mouths of Experience
Brown crossed the catwalk that spanned the atrium of Narinex’s headquarters and glanced out at the
gathering clouds. Spits of rain began to dot the three-story glass windows. In a few minutes, she would
meet with her executive team to discuss the Glistrom situation. Scrawled at the top of the Dyson/Tyler
memo tucked under her arm was an excerpt from Zoe’s report: “The emerging best practice is to make
sustainability a C-suite responsibility.”
Outside the Delphi conference room, she breathed deeply and heaved open the doors. On one side of the
table were Dyson; Stanley Samson, the head of communications; and Hans Stevenson, the global head of
R&D, who had recently taken that post after a successful stint at Narinex’s European headquarters in
Hamburg. On the other side sat Ian Jones and Herb Tyler. Brown turned first to her sales chief. “Alright,
Ian, let’s have it. What the hell is going on out there?”
Ian Jones smiled ruefully. He’d been in sales at Narinex for 20 years, rising gradually during the tenure of
three CEOs before Jennifer Brown. He liked her no-nonsense manner and willingness to engage with
customers. “Glistrom’s on a roll,” he said. “They aren’t beating us on price, and their service has always
been good. Laura filled me in on this green angle, and I think she’s on to something. Their chief
sustainability officer has been everywhere recently at conferences, on cable news shows, even blogging.
Customers are more and more concerned with this stuff, and Glistrom has a better story to tell than we do.
My folks in the field get asked about it a lot.”
Stanley Samson piped up. “Maria Capelli is her name. I’ve been tracking her clips.” Brown remembered
hearing about Capelli’s appointment. “She was quiet for about six months, probably learning the ropes. But
this fall, she’s had something every day or two. I don’t know if Glistrom’s actually doing more than we are
on green issues, but they are certainly raising their profile. I’d love to be able to make that happen for us.”
“Well, shouldn’t we be getting some clips of our own?” asked Dyson. “We have our own story, and Jennifer
can tell it. Isn’t it even more powerful to have this message coming from the very top? In fact, the one
criticism I’ve heard about Glistrom is that speaking through a surrogate weakens their message.” Herb Tyler
nodded in agreement.
“We’re pretty good in some areas but mostly those where we ‘went green’ because it lowered costs,”
Samson replied. “I don’t want us to be accused of ‘greenwashing’; it could undo all our good work.” He
looked across at Tyler. “Truthfully, our progress has been largely inadvertent. Right, Herb?”
Tyler agreed. “In terms of manufacturing and operations, this has primarily been a cost and compliance
issue. We’re not at the head of the class. And getting there means complex, costly tracking and reporting of
not only our direct impact, but also that of our suppliers and their suppliers. Frankly, some parts of our
supply chain I’d rather not see on the evening news. Remember when Global Green Action came after us in
Brown and the others well remembered the protestors who had thrown empty barrels marked with a skull
and crossbones into the decorative fountain outside Narinex’s main Asian facility the previous year.
Fortunately, only the local chapter of GGA had been involved, and media coverage was thin. Brown had
dispatched Tyler to pacify the group with a commitment to review the company’s practices. After they
tightened up a few things that had no impact on cost, the problem went away. But video footage of the
protest was still easily accessible online.
“Let’s pull back for a moment,” Brown said. She encouraged spirited discussion among her executive team,
but at times it led to chaos. “You’ve already persuaded me that the sustainability issues are real. The
challenge is what to do about them. We can’t afford to lose business to Glistrom or anyone else on a regular
basis. On the other hand, being, in Herb’s words, ‘head of the class’ is often code for ‘expensive’.”
Laura Dyson inserted herself. “And these are mostly things we’ve never done before; calculating return is
dicey. Much of the cost savings is based on projections whose underlying assumptions may not hold true
over time. In some cases, we might need to absorb short-term cost increases to get the long-term benefit.”
“What concerns me,” said Brown, “is that I see and hear tactics but no strategy. Could a CSO pull it all
together? Hans, you’re just back from Europe. What are your thoughts?”
“I think we’ve been asking the wrong questions,” Stevenson replied. “It doesn’t matter whether we go titfor-tat with Glistrom on executive hires. Maria Capelli’s luster will dull soon enough. With all due respect,
it isn’t even about RFPs. It’s whether being greener than Glistrom and the rest of our competitors helps us
seize competitive advantage. If merely being in compliance gets us all the possible benefit, let’s stop there.
But I think we have a bigger strategic opportunity, and a CSO can be a catalyst.” Brown had always liked
Stevenson and guessed that he might want to be CSO. He cared about the issues and knew the business
cold. It would be a challenging career move for him.
Stevenson went on to explain how his division’s biggest cost-saver over the past three years a change in
sourcing that made the Emerald line of components 20% less expensive to produce was attributable to
the European Union’s RoHS regulations governing hazardous substances. “If a CSO, an internal champion,
can take a compliance issue and use it to catalyze real innovation across our company, we’ll leave Glistrom
in the dust. And then we’ll have a great story to tell,” he concluded.
“Hans, I certainly was impressed with what your team did with Emerald, but let’s not forget that you got
great results with existing resources,” said Dyson. “We didn’t need a new C-level position and the overhead
that would have come with it. And it takes up to a year to get a new function up and running.” She shot a
glance at Brown. “Hans, you and Herb and the rest of this team can tackle these issues.”
Ian Jones turned the discussion back to Brown. “Jennifer, what are your thoughts?”
Brown paused for a moment. “I don’t want the executive team to be any larger than necessary
particularly not for show. And I have seen surrogates dilute a message. However, these issues may
challenge some deeply cherished parts of our culture. We can’t wait for this to blow over, and the sales
team needs a story to share now. Sometimes you need someone to advocate a fresh viewpoint.”
“Isn’t that what consultants are for?” asked Dyson. “They can quickly bring in specialized knowledge, and
we can charge them specifically with targeting sacred cows. We have a track record of hiring consultants
who get the job done.”
“Only an insider can make this part of our DNA,” Stevenson shot back. “Consultants won’t be invested for
the long term.”
“Or if they are, it will cost us a fortune,” Dyson quipped. “Insider or outsider, I just want to make sure that
the priorities of some customers don’t distract us from meeting the needs of the rest. We still have a lot of
customers who care more about cost than biodegradable materials.”
“Not as many as we used to,” Brown mused. “Not as many as we used to . . .”
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