Opinion: Santa Monica Bill Of Sustainability Rights A Historic Opportunity

Thursday, 21 Mar 2013, 11:57:00 AM

Special To The Mirror

By Michael Crooke, Ph.D. -- Assistant Professor of Strategy at Pepperdine University’s Graziadio School of Business and Management.

The Santa Monica City Council approved a “bill of sustainability rights” on March 12 that represents a major, progressive step forward for a California city. 

The ordinance would, among other things, codify Santa Monica’s commitment to achieving sustainability and formalize a biennial reporting and compliance procedure to help ensure the City is following its Sustainable City Plan.

While some might view this as a conflicting force with doing business in Santa Monica, I do not. 

In fact, I see it as a historic opportunity for Santa Monica businesses to excel in adopting practices that give them a major competitive advantage and help to ensure future business prosperity.    

Historically, success in business has been singularly defined by maximizing profits for the owners of an entity. However, the business community – Santa Monica businesses included – is championing a value system that puts sustainability on par with profits. This, combined with a prevailing desire among workers to achieve meaning and significance in their profession, has inspired everyone from corporate giants to small entrepreneurs to rethink the way they conduct business.

Businesses in Santa Monica have already embraced this change. The City has become a leader in praising local businesses that incorporate sustainable practices into their operations. In a separate but related matter of City business, on Wednesday, March 13th a joint effort between the Santa Monica Chamber of Commerce, Sustainable Works and the City of Santa Monica's Office of Sustainability and the Environment recognized area businesses through their Sustainable Quality Awards for their achievements in sustainable economic development, social responsibility and environmental stewardship.

These businesses, which range from a hotel to a restaurant to a parking management firm, are among those that reflect a pervasive way in which businesses are changing.  I call the approach the SEER model - Socially, Environmentally and Ethically Responsible. By combining a superior product or service, a solid profit-making business foundation, corporate social responsibility and environmental stewardship with a connection to a values system, businesses benefit from having a competitive advantage. Many businesses in Santa Monica have astutely recognized that consumers want quality products that they believe in and the recognition they are receiving from City and business leaders is essential.

The key for businesses looking to both drive profitability and while positively impacting society is to make the company’s values tangible, relevant and helpful to consumers. When customers find a brand that shares or aligns with their own values, the connection begins. This creates a deep and lasting bond between what the company stands for and what the customer believes in. Constructing such a brand environment is a matter of establishing a clear set of values and making them actionable at every touch point in the brand/customer’s experience.

This connection makes financial sense. When customers develop a bond with a company or product’s core purpose, brand loyalty is significantly increased. These customers show a higher propensity to repurchase and recommend the product or company and a reluctance to switch brands. These loyal customers contribute to profitability at rates up to 10 times greater than other customers and, from a brand management perspective, they are the source of long-term financial success.

The approach in Santa Monica coincides with forward-looking industry trends as well. For example, the Real Estate Investment Trust (REIT) industry in recent years has strongly encouraged voluntary adoption of Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) verification in their real estate portfolios. Influenced by investor interest and marketing wisdom, real estate asset managers are encouraging sustainable processes and reporting.

Today and moving forward, Santa Monica’s focus on sustainability and its public-private partnership to encourage businesses to adopt sustainable practices are an example for cities nationwide. The City and Chamber have taken an important step in praising businesses that take into consideration the impact they have on communities. Following Santa Monica’s lead, communities throughout the nation can ensure that residents and visitors have access to businesses that are committed to sustainability and corporate social responsibility. Coupled with superior products and services, these companies will enjoy success in the long term as consumers will migrate from being a one-time customer to a loyal shopper.

Michael Crooke, Ph.D., is an assistant professor of strategy at Pepperdine University’s Graziadio School of Business and Management. Dr. Crooke is the founding and lead faculty of the school's Certificate in Socially, Environmentally and Ethically Responsible (SEER) Business Strategy program and teaches the capstone course on responsible business practice. He offers a Certificate in Strategic CSR for executives and business owners. More information can be found at http://bschool.pepperdine.edu/programs/executive-education/certificate-csr.

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