Executives Seek Integrated Returns—Business, Social & Environmental—From Natural Assets

Global Industrial Corporation Generates “Non-traditional” Benefits from Their Real Estate


The Client Situation 

Executives from a global industrial corporation with an extensive portfolio of realty assets believed they had an opportunity to do better. They suspected that they could produce meaningful social and environmental benefits above and beyond their standard commercial activities. They had good reason to believe this. Their land and water resources exceeded one million acres and stretched across multiple continents.

However, corporate leaders felt uncertain about how to select appropriate project sites for maximum benefits. Routine operations had created a workforce capable of responding to environmental regulatory compliance needs. But leaders were not particularly confident about how to go beyond that to create additional desirable returns.

Then the board of this company turned up the heat on executives by giving them a new mantra: “do more better.” This created real pressure on leaders who were acutely aware that they did not have the in-house expertise they needed. Their goal was to use realty assets to save money, make money, improve their reputation and create positive benefits for the environment. But they also had to contend with an organizational culture that resisted change. Even so, these leaders knew they needed to direct more attention to their social license to operate to enhance public reputation.

As we met with leaders of this business, we heard their distress and concern about their pace of progress toward this new directive. Leaders were going about the mission in scattered and disparate ways that was creating tension between operational groups with no productive outcomes. They knew that they could do much better, they just didn’t know how.

Creekbank Associates’ Recommendations 

As we engaged in due diligence with this client, it became quite clear to us that their previous efforts had been stymied by three factors:

  1. Unclear targets, timeline and resources that were commonly understood and agreed upon by all stakeholders.
  2. Cultural resistance, as evidenced by certain leaders not embracing or seeming to care much about these efforts.
  3. A limited understanding of the environmental performance metrics and business dynamics.

Yet, as we begin our work together, it was clear that they were committed to making good on their expanded environmental and social promises. This put Creekbank Associates in a great position to start making recommendations that could really help them. Based on our analysis of their situation, we recommended the following service:

We developed a strategy to deploy the untapped natural capital values of our client’s realty assets, across every stage of their mainline business operations, from cradle to grave. These Nature-based Solutions (NbS) projects are designed to provide environmental and social benefits, in addition to saving costs and/or generating new revenues. From this, we helped elevate their vision in three key areas, based on this expanded set of criteria for project selection:

  1. Positive environmental restoration outcomes from idle assets.
  2. Improved social reputation and community relations.
  3. Economic benefits to the business: green = green.  

The Service Package 

We began our engagement by investigating our client’s efforts to date to consider how they were currently identifying potential projects and their points of analysis. We sought to identify gaps and opportunities for improvement. In our review of their activities to date, we asked:

  • What are your technical criteria for picking NbS projects?
  • Why are you only considering a small portion of your total realty assets?
  • What is the relative value of each benefit type to the business?
  • When does the business need to demonstrate these outcomes?

Informed by their efforts to date and based on our experience, we developed a decision support toolbox that integrates business, social, and environmental metrics so that executives had the knowledge to effectively make and communicate decisions. For this client, the strategic toolbox included:

  1. A taxonomy for evaluating and screening all their properties for NbS projects.
  2. A process that incorporates consideration of assets for NbS viability across the entire business life cycle.
  3. Sets of criteria to:
    1. Assess the environmental uplift potential of each prospective project, based on asset types.
    2. Quantify the financial benefits of cost savings and/or revenue generation potential. This included a macro-level market analysis for each prospective natural resource benefit.
    3. Appraise the social and reputational benefits from each prospective project.
  4. A selection methodology for ranking and prioritizing across the range of candidate NbS projects, based on desired timing and outcomes.

We developed and led a series of training workshops across operational and geographic divisions to promote internal education and alignment. As part of these trainings, we coached executives, technical and communications staff on the why’s and how’s of integrating the power of NbS into their daily operations.

Adding further value to our client’s approach moving forward, Creekbank Associates also created a series of advanced recommendations. These included next level development of:

  • A scalable, company-wide, web-based dashboard to support NbS related internal decision-making.
  • Enhanced public communications sharing the corporation’s advancement towards their stated social and environmental commitments.
  • Ongoing internal training program to on-board and engage staff on topics around NbS and environmental markets.

The Client Results

As a result of this engagement, our client has made swift progress in integrating NbS into their business operations, including launching a new global group focused exclusively on this initiative. The corporation is now rapidly being seen as an NbS leader within their extractives-based industry, one that is driving change both inside their own business and beyond to their peers. Whereas they were once positioned as a laggard in their industry, they are now positioned as a leader.

Having an asset evaluation framework process has positioned executives to make informed business decisions about green initiatives. We helped them widen their consideration of sites that could be utilized and returns that could be anticipated, with timelines for implementation, restoration outcomes, and the financial implications. Outcomes for our client included:

  • Enhanced openness to green initiatives from people across the business as they became excited about the new insights and guidance. NbS projects are now understood as measurable and meaningful opportunities to save costs, generate non-traditional revenues, and build good will with the public.
  • Significantly improved understanding of project-worthy targets created by helping them re-examine and develop appropriate criteria.
  • A map of the money – demonstrating the effective use of policy drivers, regulatory requirements and other environmental market strategies that bring in revenue or save costs.
  • Advanced  understanding of power of public perception, also known as social license to operate, and its bi-directional relationship with NbS project selection.
  • Next steps for implementing and communicating a strategic process that incorporates an improved understanding of the policies, metrics, science, and markets of NbS.
  • Decision-makers acted with greater boldness, confidence and ultimately impact because they knew they had a good approach and were confident in the plan.

We partnered with our client at every stage of this engagement. We connected them with the market, financial, technical and change management know-how they needed and illuminated a practical and realistic path forward. This gave the leaders confidence that they actually could fulfill the mission set by their board. The net result for them is that they substantially improved their social license to operate while enhancing their financial bottom line.