Are big targets the target? /// salterbaxter /// Creative communications and sustainability advisors in London

Directions Supplement Nordic Edition Spring 2013
Are big targets the target?

Exploring the buzz around big targets in sustainability strategy – and why most Nordic companies are still holding their breath.

by author salterbaxter

Are big targets the target?

Three billion lives improved… 50% less water… 100% sustainable fish… a life saved every hour… big numbers and impressive challenges from companies such as P&G, Philips, Unilever and IKEA have made targets the lead story of some of the best-known sustainability strategies in recent years. But do they work?

We’ve taken the temperature on this debate in Scandinavia and, unsurprisingly, this is what we found: It depends… For some companies big targets seem to work like Kennedy’s commitment to put a man on the moon by the end of the 1960s. The very fact that they are daunting and there is no clear plan to achieve them is what gives them power. These ‘Big Hairy Audacious Goals’ have undoubtedly become an important part of the language of sustainability leadership, to the point where it’s hard to be a frontrunner in sustainable business strategy without them.

But for many Nordic companies, talking about future achievements in such a bold way is deeply counter-cultural, and there’s a clear sense that big targets, if they are used at all, can’t stand alone. They need connection to the fundamental purpose of the business – and proof points that show how it is contributing positively to society and stakeholders.

That explains why many Nordic businesses are busy behind the scenes, working out how they can set ambitious targets that are also based on solid metrics, and have a clear connection to their social purpose.

This Salterbaxter special report explores some of that experience. We look at where some of the leading businesses are positioned on targets, talk to Grundfos about their plans for leadership, and review efforts by a range of companies to put convincing metrics on their sustainability impacts. And we offer eight tricks to learn from the leaders.

Our conclusion? Targets can be an important driver of leadership, and a powerful way to communicate complex ambitions around sustainability, but they need clear connections to a long-term social purpose, and the right metrics and proof points to make them deliver value.

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