Some organizational leaders, particularly CFOs and COOs, may be surprised to learn that focusing on sustainability can drive long-term growth and yield high returns.

But this comes as no surprise to Harvard Business School (HBS) Professor Rebecca Henderson whose new book, “Reimagining Capitalism in a World on Fire” (Public Affairs, April 2020) is continuing to receive high praise around the world.

The pandemic has only added to the timeliness and relevance of the book which offers business leaders practical economic models for conducting business in ways that balance growth with environmental sustainability and equitable practices. Henderson already sees leading energy, pharmaceutical, IT, materials and CPG firms profiting from purpose-driven practices while positioning themselves for long-term growth.

She strongly encourages other businesses to follow their lead.

Henderson – The John and Natty McArthur University Professor at Harvard University, with a joint appointment in HBS’s General Management and Strategy Units – has been researching organizational change, innovation and disruption for decades. In making a case for a new, more balanced form of capitalism, she points out how companies like Walmart, King Arthur Flour and Unilever have built strong business models around adopting “high road” employment models while tackling environmental problems.

Gain a Competitive Advantage

In her recent keynotes – which are currently happening virtually – she covers such topics as Sustainability as a Fulcrum for Corporate Innovation and Coaxing Organizations to Do New Things.

When sharing her insights, Henderson details four key areas where companies are gaining a competitive edge while protecting people and the planet: brand awareness, supply chain, efficiency, and employee loyalty. She also serves as an advisor to firms looking to develop purpose-driven leaders and practices.

Henderson strongly believes the private sector has the power and must pressure slower-moving governments into developing and enforcing responsible policies. She also encourages self-regulation within private sector industries, adding that it would also offer a collaborative forum for uncovering new opportunities and collectively planning for a future that works for all.

“Capitalism is one of the great inventions of the human race and over the last hundred years it has generated enormous wealth and freedom,” says Henderson. “But in order for us to sustain that growth and preserve all the ideals upon which it was founded, we need to take a good hard look at the rules and recalibrate.”