[Editor's Note, April 7, 2015: Congratulations to Duke University on its national championship. The basketball success of Duke University and its fellow finalist, the University of Wisconsin, is matched by the efforts of each school to enhance sustainability on-campus and in the corporate world.  We are thankful for a thrilling tournament final, and their efforts to improve our world.]

The Final Four this year is set.  All are powerhouse teams, including three top seeds (with apologies to our hometown Villanova) and a perennial contender.  All are looking to hang another championship banner, while one is vying to be the first team to go undefeated since the 1976 Indiana Hoosiers.

While they play different styles, the teams share similar reasons for success.  All have great leadership and long-term goals for their programs.  The coaches also set solid annual and individual game strategies, and make the needed second-half or in-game adjustments.  At the same time, their players execute those strategies precisely on the court.

It is a winning recipe that can be correlated to organizations looking to enhance their business performance.

For this year’s Final Four teams, they are striving for that elusive championship and, as the season moved forward, an undefeated season for Kentucky.  They are annual goals that support the long-term vision.

For these programs, that long-term vision is sustained excellence.

An increasingly common goal for all business-minded organizations is making a favorable impact on society and the planet. It is certainly an excellent, long-term goal. And, there are many businesses that make such an impact on the 3 P’s: people, planet, and prosperity.  But how?

The answer is by having a strategic, sustainability management program.

Sustainability management is the practice of considering social, environmental, and economic impacts in long-term business planning and management with the goal of enhancing value, profitability, and the resiliency of an organization.

Look at our Final Four programs: Duke, Wisconsin, Kentucky, and Michigan State.  Their strategic, long-term thinking has resulting in sustained success, enhanced performance, and value (they – and their conferences – each will receive multiple millions of dollars this tournament alone).

A strategic sustainability management program for businesses requires more than just starting one-and-done recycling programs. (Yes, some criticize Kentucky for their many one-and-done players, but their success shows strong recruiting classes over the long-term.)

Strategic programs require competitor and marketplace benchmarking, picking the right projects that are cost-effective and aligned with business objectives, and engaging employees in the success of the program and company.

College basketball teams strive for championships.  Businesses may lead sustainability programs for a multiple of reasons:

  • cut costs/increase profits
  • build long-term value
  • improve brand
  • engage employees
  • get stakeholder buy-in
  • manage the supply chain
  • stay ahead of competition

Nobody start out firing on all cylinders and with perfect performance. These programs (basketball or sustainability) usually have to begin small and build up.

In fact, Coach John Calipari of Kentucky constantly says that his team is undefeated, but not perfect.  It is an approach that takes the pressure off his players, but also sets realistic annual goals while reminding all of their perennial excellence.

It is not a pursuit of perfection, but rather a drive to reach for something big.  It starts with the right approach, right strategy, and the right tools, and it can grow into something that is valuable, meaningful, and impactful over the long-term.