Building Innovation Into Sustainability: Keep Ahead Of Your Competitors9 April, 2015 / Articles
Gary Lawrence is Vice President and Chief Sustainability Officer for AECOM Technology Corporation (NYSE: ACM), an $8-billion global provider of professional technical and management support services. AECOM’s 45,000 employees — including architects, engineers, designers, planners, scientists and management professionals — serve clients in more than 130 countries around the world. In this role, Mr. Lawrence leads AECOM’s sustainability efforts by managing AECOM’s extensive resources and skills in sustainability for projects across the enterprise. He is also an AECOM spokesperson and thought leader on sustainability issues. During his 30-year-plus career in public and private policy and management, his leadership skills have contributed to various global initiatives engaging in research and practice to mitigate climate change and adaptation strategies.
Christopher Skroupa: Simply put, resilience is integrative. For it to be effective, it must be implemented across functions and incorporated into key initiatives of the enterprise. How does this effect governance, sustainability and risk?
Gary Lawrence: Certainly resilience requires that strategy and behaviors be considered horizontally as well as vertically. Resilience also requires that we recognize it as part of a continuum of thinking having to do with optimizing conditions for human development and the consequences of external events for business and its customers. We need to consider mediation as a risk management idea, resilience as the most effective response to probable or force majeure events and finally adaptation as we apply the lessons learned in resilience to reduce the undesirable consequences of future events.
Skroupa: In discussions with sustainability executives, company resilience is considered an IT security function, outside of the domain of sustainability practice. What is driving this?
Lawrence: I believe that it’s too narrow to say that resilience is an IT security function. Corporate resilience has to do with communications, data, business continuity, access to markets, just-in-time delivery for certain kinds of business activities and a variety of other things. It is also central to considering any company’s employee’s well-being. One of the attributes that drives the IT emphasis is the accelerated nature of economic decisions and transactions.
Skroupa: What role does innovation play in this integration process? It seems that advances in technology are upping the ante for companies, requiring them to build capability to counter their advances in penetrating and disrupting operations.
Lawrence: Innovation plays a key role in integrating business sectors to anticipate events and be more resilient post-occurrence. Successful enterprises will need to embrace and intuitively understand the connections between systems (water, energy and security for instance) in order to get core questions correct so that solutions can create more value at the intersection of systems.
Skroupa: Some experts say that company silos are a thing of past–that executives will need to adjust and collaborate with one another on areas that overlap functions. Are silos soon to be a thing of the past?
Lawrence: I don’t believe that silos will disappear. I do believe that their walls will need to be much more permeable than they can be today. There some problems that require very deep and detailed dives by specialists. Other problems, most of which include resilience concepts, are better served by multidisciplinary investigations. One of the difficult but necessary futures for complex organizations is to get right the answer to the question “whom else should be seated at this table as we define the problem you’re trying to solve and come up with the most cost-effective solutions? ”
Skroupa: Much of the innovation driving company resilience comes from military, intelligence and counter-terrorism practice where multi-disciplinary teams look at all aspects of disruption and response form many conceivable scenarios. How could sustainability executives fit approach in context to a public company? Will it expand the role of Chief Sustainability Officers?
Lawrence: I agree that scenario planning can greatly strengthen resilience capabilities. The process of applying structured imagination to conceivable futures helps forgo the high opportunity costs that may be associated with planning for a future that may or may not unfold. We apply many such processes within AECOM as we help our clients anticipate the consequences and costs associated with changes in their particular context. Sustainability is, in essence, about managing complexity. In any sustainable solution three things must be true. Solutions must be technically feasible, economically viable and politically acceptable. The relative weight between these three variables may change but in the end they must all be aligned in the choice to act.