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Shortcut to Sustainability: Talk About Values

Want a sustainable business? Start telling employees what you value, says Rebecca Henderson.

Becoming a sustainable business isn't easy, but you have to take the risk, said Rebecca Henderson, co-director of the business and environment initiative at Harvard Business School, during the World Innovation Forum on Wednesday.

"I am familiar with why innovation is hard. But I am also familiar with the fact that [innovating with a focus on sustainability] is an enormous source of new growth and opportunity," she told the New York audience. 

The shortcut to sustainability -- whether it means cutting costs or creating a new business from scratch--is by committing to change and acting on it. 

"Lead with values, manage from the heart," she said. "You need a business model. You've got to have the numbers that add up. But that alone is not enough."

Here's why focusing on values--and speaking up about them--works: 

Values are inspiring. Values make people motivated because they offer a reason to work, and work hard. When that happens, "people know what they are doing ... and they are excited about it," said Henderson. 

Values create trust. You can't manage a team without trust. As industries look to become more sustainable, firms will need to trust their employees--and each other. Industry self-regulation is a much more powerful driver of change than government mandates, said Henderson. So explaining what you value in public will help to create a community. Be aware this takes time, so start small, she advised. 

Values drive change. Becoming a sustainable organization is hard, but once a whole company is on board, it gets easier. When employees know why something is happening and believe it's important, the transition will be within reach. 

IMAGE: Getty
Last updated: Jun 12, 2013


Jana Kasperkevic is a graduate of Baruch College, City University of New York, where she earned a bachelors degree in Journalism and Political Science. She covers start-ups, small businesses, and entrepreneurship for Inc. Her work has appeared in The Village Voice, InvestmentNews, Business Insider, and Houston Chronicle, among others. She lives in Brooklyn.

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