Develop strategic aspirations
Ambition is a continuum, and while we urge companies to improve their vision when they gain more expertise (and thus see more possibilities), not all companies have the same choice. For example, those businesses that focus on basic chemicals have little chance of differentiation and often have fewer opportunities. Specialty chemicals companies have more options than they are, because they are closer to end consumers who reward sustainable development driven innovation. Companies with high visibility pay more attention to the benefits of their reputation, so they are more likely to propose sustainable development reasons than less well-known companies, which focus on direct financial impact. A company can set different goals for its business.
In the whole chemical industry, we see that there are five different levels of strategic ambition for sustainable development. From the most basic to the most ambitious, the following are the assumptions and guidelines for each plan:
Use license. Companies that follow this approach – like most companies, until recently – believe there is no reason to do more to meet regulatory minimum requirements and may seize future rules. It is the legal requirement that determines the disclosure of information, not the public image of the company.
Isolated action. Companies with this ambition see some of the rewards of sustainable development beyond compliance and are willing to try small initiatives. They have added sustainability oriented performance indicators to address the areas of greatest concern and ensure that their efforts are promoted to enhance the image of the company.
A complete hug. In this regard, companies have fully adapted, and sustainable development is the key – but not the dominant – part of the enterprise strategy. Chemical companies pursue significant investments in multiple sustainable development areas, including the development of new products and services, and the improvement of internal operations. They adopt clear objectives and broad metrics. But efforts in sustainable development still have to compete with other objectives.
The innovator of sustainability. For companies with such strategic aspirations, opportunities are so huge that sustainable development is the driving force behind new products and services. Usually, these efforts are focused on flagship products, representing significant progress in current practice. Most business combinations are still oriented to regular activities, but all of these activities must meet strict standards, from procurement to reuse or processing, as appropriate. The chemical company is innovating to the sustainable development direction, and gradually divests the less sustainable part of the business, and communicates with the public transparently.
Focus on sustainable development. For start-ups and old companies with new technologies, it’s a niche strategy, such as performance-oriented biopolymers for renewable energy production. The products or services produced are the core of the company, and the whole business model is to serve the sustainable development needs. These companies do not have to be completely independent; some are joint ventures with existing chemical companies. But all of these require strict management, sustainable development thinking and strong marketing throughout the organization.