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The flexibility of the sSWOT framework allows for multiple applications. It can be a new analysis or it can complement an existing or earlier analysis—even traditional SWOT analyses. Road testing companies have found success linking the sSWOT with an ongoing initiative or interest area (see “Insights from Road Tests”). Several companies have also found that initial applications with one business unit can lead to interest in the sSWOT in other business units and for other types of applications.
The starting point can be a specific environmental challenge. For example, you and your team may wish to better understand the impacts of climate change on key markets. You may be doing this to explore the risks posed by climate change, but the exercise could also reveal a growing need for a new business model, or a new product or service innovation. It might reveal the need to raise the level of ambition (for example, higher revenue goals for energy-efficient products) or expose a strategic gap where more attention or data are needed (for example, understanding future climate change impacts on suppliers or customers).
Or, you may be seeking to set new performance goals to track an environmental indicator. For example, you may be concerned about how water risk (scarcity, quality concerns) affects your (or your suppliers’) facilities. The sSWOT may point to unexplored or unexpected partnership opportunities with other companies or stakeholders who have a shared interest in managing water resources to ensure future availability.
Or, you may be working to embed environmental considerations into broader strategic decisions or even traditional SWOT analyses. For example, a business unit may be developing its next five-year strategy and you may want them to use the sSWOT to inform investments in R&D and innovative new products or services to meet changing demand patterns.
As you explore options for using the sSWOT, keep in mind one question:
What (or who) do you want to inform?
What (or who) do you want to inform?
You may be exploring the risks posed by climate change, but the exercise could also reveal a growing need for a new business model, product or innovation.
The answer to this question will guide all subsequent steps. It is helpful to have one person and one decision point in mind, driving the sSWOT analysis. This may be challenging, but such specifics will help better focus conversations with colleagues. The answer might involve:
- A SPECIFIC PERSON AND DECISION. Target, the North American retailer, used the sSWOT to work with the food business director and her team to assess options for sustainable food initiatives.
- A SPECIFIC OUTPUT. The College of Estate Management, a UK based educator for the real estate and construction industry, used the sSWOT to develop a report for their Board of Directors on future business development opportunities related to sustainable buildings.
- A SPECIFIC QUESTION. The Brazilian Dairy unit of Group Danone, a dairy and nutrition products company, used the sSWOT to answer the question: is our five-year sustainability strategy ambitious enough? They started with a set of “pillars,” which were topic areas like social innovation and ecosystem services, and used the sSWOT to see if there were any related or additional big issues or developments to factor into their plans.
To engage colleagues and decision makers, consider framing the sSWOT analysis in the context of:
The sSWOT may point to unexplored or unexpected partnership opportunities with other companies or stakeholders who have shared interests.
- YOUR COMPANY’S MISSION STATEMENT OR CORE VALUES. Braskem, a chemicals company present in Brazil, the U.S. and Germany, is drawing on the sSWOT within its strategic review process of the company´s sustainability strategy, which aims to build buy in across the company’s operations and drive the implementation of its 2020 Vision, “to be the world leader in sustainable chemistry, innovating to better serve people.”
- A TOPIC THAT IS “ALL CONSUMING” OR AT THE TOP OF ALL EXECUTIVES’ PRIORITY LISTS. At Delphi, creating value has become increasingly critical in business decisions and was an essential component of the sSWOT. The company, after emerging from bankruptcy and experiencing growth in the competitive global automotive sector, must see strategic investment relating to environmental challenges framed as both near-term and long-term cost savings.
To prepare for the analysis, consider trying one of the following presSWOT activities:
- SENIOR LEADER BUY-IN. Target’s sustainability team reached out to a key business unit director to secure her support for the sSWOT analysis. This helped ensure that her team would be engaged and committed to the exercise. Other companies have noted the benefits in letting other departments “own” the analysis or engaging a third-party facilitator to conduct the sSWOT to ensure widespread buy-in for the results.
- BACKGROUND RESEARCH. Several individuals using the sSWOT at their companies conducted background research on relevant topics (for example, climate change impacts on water supplies or upcoming regulations on waste management) and completed a partial sSWOT analysis on their own to inform conversations with colleagues. Several also prepared PowerPoint slides to introduce the sSWOT framework and key insights about environmental challenges of interest.
- ONE-ON-ONE CONVERSATIONS WITH COLLEAGUES. The sustainability director at the College of Estate Management briefed colleagues in individual meetings before convening a group to complete the sSWOT analysis. This gave him an opportunity to connect the sSWOT to individual colleagues’ specific interests. It also helped maximize the use of time during the brief window when the group would be able to meet all together.
- sSWOT STAGING. Several individuals used a phased approach to the sSWOT analysis at their company. The sustainability team at Danone Brasil, for example, chose to engage a small team in the initial exercise and then expanded to engage a broader group of colleagues internally. Whom you engage—and at what stage—is unique to each company and analysis, but is an important consideration. Some companies note that they initially want to engage “friendly” colleagues to build up support before taking the insights to other colleagues who are generally skeptical of environmental initiatives.
INSIGHTS FROM ROAD TESTS
THE COLLEGE OF ESTATE MANAGEMENT
The College of Estate Management (CEM) is a UK-based provider of distance learning for real estate and construction professionals. The sustainability director at CEM wished to explore with colleagues the emerging risks and opportunities that environmental challenges present for the organization. He used the sSWOT as a means of “opening doors and opening minds,” showing colleagues that the increasing global interest in sustainable buildings had implications for core business interests, such as attracting students and demonstrating leadership in their sector. He linked the sSWOT to a report to the Board of Directors and has begun exploring additional uses of the sSWOT framework to build interest and awareness of sustainability issues among students and faculty at CEM.