New “sSWOT” guide can help boost Corporate Sustainability


How can an Environmentalist ensure that they can communicate a sustainability message to their clients or colleagues in a meaningful way that can be understood and actioned.

The sad truth is that environmental issues are not always a passion for everyone in an organisation. However, climate change and other environmental challenges are shaping tomorrow’s markets—so the key challenge is to draw the connections between sustainability and business value for those who may not see it right away.

The World Resources Institute (WRI) has released a guide to address this issue and others related to embedding corporate sustainability. The guide, which has been road-tested in the summer of 2012 by major U.S. companies like Target, Method, and Staples—adds a sustainability component to the traditional Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats (SWOT) analysis that organisations have relied on for more than 50 years.

The concept of the sustainability SWOT, or “sSWOT” (sustainability SWOT), is designed to help corporate sustainability champions engage with clients, colleagues, customers, suppliers, and even competitors to identify links to business risks and brainstorm new business opportunities.

Sustainability seems to be squarely on the agenda for many organisations today. A survey report by the MIT Sloan Management Review with the Boston Consulting Group showed that thousands of companies have incorporated sustainability into their management agendas over the past decade.

However, sustainability is all too often an isolated agenda item that’s viewed as competing with other priorities. In many cases, it fails to get the attention (or the internal investment) that other agenda items get. Or sustainability is thought of simply as a philanthropic initiative, intentionally disconnected from the company’s core interests. What remains clear is that businesses need the know-how to more fully integrate sustainability into strategic and everyday business decisions.

Using the sSWOT emphasizes collaboration for bigger and bolder Strategies, whilst being a simple but powerful concept. Most managers are at least somewhat familiar with the Strengths-Weaknesses-Opportunities-Threats framework—the sSWOT puts a new perspective on this familiar tool to catalyse dialogue among colleagues and across companies.

The sSWOT can be used in many different ways, such as:

  • Translate insights about environmental challenges like climate change and resource scarcity into risks or opportunities companies can act on;
  • Get others motivated about opportunities to invest, innovate, and collaborate on environmental challenges in ways that increase business value;
  • Convince colleagues and decision makers (for example, senior managers, CEOs, CFOs, or Boards of Directors) that environmental challenges are not as far removed from companies’ core interests as may be assumed.

The benefits have already be realised by the road-testing companies with the following achievements:

  • Staples used the sSWOT to frame a workshop with several of its large corporate customers. Together, they shared insights about the big trends shaping their sustainability strategies in the coming years and identified opportunities to work closer together to share experiences.
  • Delphi used the sSWOT to assess strategies for “zero waste to landfill” ambitions. Among their learnings, the company recognized a strategic opportunity to work with customers. By engaging companies like General Motors (GM) and Ford, Delphi can combine expertise on innovative waste management practices.
  • Danone Brasil used the sSWOT to engage colleagues across the company in an assessment of whether its sustainability plans for the next five years covered important risks and opportunities to innovate.

In time, sSWOT may become more familiar to future business leaders especially through business schools, where MBA students already used to SWOT analyses as part of their coursework or consulting projects can add an ‘s’ to the SWOT at the education stage can ensure that sustainability is more fully incorporated into the business mainstream moving forward.

So why note use the sSWOT concept for tackling sustainability issues in your organisation.

A free download of the sSWOT guide can be found at

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