It’s the UAE’s Year of Giving, and in the spirit of the occasion, I want to give you something. I’m passionate about sustainability- especially when it’s done well. And I want us to all move away from the traditional model of corporate responsibility, which is effectively giving money or using sustainability to garner media coverage. Organizations need to think about meaningful impact, rather than short-term inputs. Small to medium sized businesses are the cornerstone of the economy in the UAE, making up to 60% of the national economy. If we’re going to make sustainability part the nation’s development, then SMEs need to be included as part of the Year of Giving. Here’s a (relatively) simple guide on how to craft a sustainability strategy:
1. Get leadership involved This is an easy one for entrepreneurs, but it’s essential to have the management team engaged in sustainability. They’re responsible for the business, and likewise, they’re responsible for changing attitudes towards sustainability.
2. Understand your sustainability impact You can’t develop a sustainability strategy until you understand what impact -good or bad- your current processes have on the environment, communities, and employees. Any communication on impact has to be honest, transparent, verifiable and measurable, otherwise there is no robustness or authenticity to it (and it’ll show). Research shows that green fatigue is rising and consumers are becoming more skeptical about company claims on sustainability. Your sustainability impact and progress towards where you want to be must be supported by facts and figures including past reporting and future intent.
3. Define your “who” You must ask yourself who are your stakeholders, and what you both most care about. Use these insights to define and pursue a long-term impact that includes your stakeholders. Stakeholders could include the public, suppliers, customers, not-for-profit organizations, private sector partners and government. Once you know who you want to engage with, start communicating with them about your vision (both short and long-term), and how you are working to get there.
4. Engage both internally and externally No sustainability intervention will succeed without the input and support of your staff. They’ll act both as innovators -by suggesting new ideas and concepts- as well as advocates. Involve them, get them energized, and your sustainability strategy will have an opportunity to do more than make an impact externally. Research has shown that employees whose personal beliefs are aligned with a company’s sustainability vision are more motivated and engaged and much less likely to leave. Likewise, you’re not going to get far without involving your stakeholders in the work you’re doing. This is especially true of the charity/NGO sector. These organizations will help you amplify the work you’re doing to create meaningful change. Their endorsement of your sustainability impact will carry much more credibility than what you are saying about yourself.
5. Measure, measure, measure Your strategy will need to include indicators to assess progress and outcomes. You can’t manage what you can’t measure, and indicators are the best way to understand the impact you’re having. Keep going back to the data to understand what is working well, and what needs to be changed.
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