Five “Keys” to Unlock a Successful Sustainability Program

Five “Keys” to Unlock a Successful Sustainability Program

Part 3 in the blog series The New PR

The measure of success is not how well your business model supports sustainability objectives but rather how well your sustainability efforts support – and define - your business model.

The five “keys” that I have developed over the last fifteen years and have been teaching for about a decade are those elements that I believe are necessary to build a unlock the full potential of sustainability as a business-supporting strategy. They have been the basis for programs that I have recommended and implemented for companies ranging from multinational corporate giants to small not-for-profit organizations and those working to implement sustainability, including my work with the Sustainable Business Network of Washington ( They have been well received by a variety of audiences including business leaders, academics, students, philanthropic organizations, government representatives, and other opinion leaders.

They start with the understanding that sustainability – ensuring the long term viability of the company that is in keeping with the continued best-interests of the environment, society and economic viability - is more than a form of “strategic philanthropy” because when it is done effectively positions and advances a business economically while providing positive impacts to the social and environmental pillars as well. The keys follow a model for telling an effective story – answering the age-old questions of who, what, where, how and why. In many ways the “The New PR” – restores the true meaning of the phrase – relating to and with the public, rather than a narrower focus on sending messages through media relations. 

Over the next several weeks I will go into detail on each of the five keys. However, as an overview, they are:

1.              Alignment with your core business model (why)

2.              Integration with day-to-day operations (how)

3.              Employee Engagement and Empowerment (who)

4.              Key 4: Tangible (local) Benefits (where)

5.              Maximize Stakeholder Engagement (what)

It is important to note that the five elements are not in order of importance. All are critical and a failure in any area results in a program that is less effective, or even ineffective or counter-productive. 

To read more posts from this series, click here

John Friedman, an award-winning communications professional and recognized sustainability expert with more than 20 years of experience, is co-founder and vice chair of the board for the Sustainable Business Network of Washington (SBNOW). 

Friedman has served as both an external and internal sustainability leader, helping companies, ranging from small companies to leading global enterprises, turn their values into successful business models by integrating their environmental, social, and economic aspirations into their cultures and business practices. 

His insights on sustainability issues and strategy are a regular feature on Huffington Post.

Friedman authored the e-publication The New PR which outlines how companies must modify the way they communicate to meet stakeholders' changing expectations through five proven keys for developing programs that replace "spin" with transparency and unlock the full potential of a sustainability program to build reputational capital. Friedman is currently working on a new book Your Backyard Is My Front Yard.

He can be reached at, is @JohnFriedman on Twitter and can be connected on LinkedIn and Facebook