The argument has largely been won on whether you should be incorporating sustainability within your business activities: consumers, investors, and operators agree that there is business value in better products, less waste, and more responsible practices. That said, it is not yet fully integrated into every business’ ways of working.: The first challenge is gearing up the organisation for this engaging but challenging journey.
In personal and professional life people are becoming more aware of sustainability topics, though uncertainty still abounds. When the subject is technical, complex, and nuanced, with an alphabet soup of organisations, standards and measures, it is tempting to look to people with ‘Sustainability’ in their title for the answers. But though it was once the preserve of dedicated specialists or corporate teams, responsibility for sustainability improvements is trickling down through the organisation with every function expected to contribute to achieving strategic goals.
A more sustainable future will only be realised with everyone playing their part – with an evolving situation, we can’t wait to be told what to do, we all need to be part of creating the solution, which requires:
Make sure people understand the business’ position, its strategy, where it is on the journey, and what good will look like. Educate them on the issues behind the topics the company is working on and why these are the focus – the sustainability agenda is deep and broad, but rigorous materiality analyses, regulatory reviews, and detailed implementation plans will give confidence on the chosen priorities.
Teams need to be upskilled on key technical subject matter, but also on reinforcing their ability to go to ‘first principles’ to assess their specific challenge, and find the solutions that will support the sustainable transition. The challenge is vast and emergent, different in every industry, sector, and function; technological contributions to mitigation and adaptation are evolving rapidly; new guidance and regulations are coming thick and fast. It is not possible to teach or impose solutions, but it is possible to provide the tools so individuals can create them.
On a topic like this that reaches people on a different level, which both generates and reinforces a sense of purpose and meaning in work, transparency is key. Report regularly and honestly, both about where progress is being made, and where you do not yet have all the answers. Failing to do so will have a compounding opposite effect, undermining confidence and bringing accusations of ‘greenwashing’.
Similarly, vague commitments and undelivered or undeliverable activities will also undermine the overall aim. People want to know what they can do in their professional world to have a positive impact. This needs to be specific to their roles and activities. Training on principles and methodologies will be very different vs what this will look like in their day to day. For example, training on the scientific consensus on the greenhouse effect or how to submit to the Global Reporting Index are very different from training on organisation specific things like the processes they operate, the decisions they can influence and trade offs they can make, or the KPIs which tell them if they are doing the right thing. Time spent being practical about this will be well invested, as well as ensuring all business priorities are kept balanced.
Getting sustainability baked in from the beginning needs people to show up in their role, which is promoted through all of the above – giving them the information, tools, and autonomy to act. As well as this, the expected outcomes and behaviours need to be made clear through intentional role & responsibility design, with coherent incentives and objectives set. People can know what they have to do, what good looks like, and have confidence that their efforts will bear fruit.
The time is now to act on the sustainability agenda – turning bold strategies and commitments into action. Doing so is far easier said than done, but focusing on some priority areas will help business leaders, who are more and more accountable for delivering the sustainability vision, to accelerate on this journey. This means transforming the everyday to radically different ways of thinking and innovative goods and services, all while continuing to delight customers, inspire employees, collaborate effectively with suppliers, and be responsible corporate citizens. We are convinced that realising this relies on your people being primed for the change, with the right information at their fingertips to make the right decisions, and engaging with the wider business in a practical way – through this, we will move from words to real action, theories to real impact change, and from today, to tomorrow, real change.
Author: Judith Richardson