How to Establish a Sustainable Corporate Strategy That's Good for Business
Sustainability is more than a buzzword. It's a way for businesses to do good while doing good business.
Sustainability is a very important concept today. From individuals and corporate bodies to multinational organizations, there’s a drive to reduce the negative impact of our activities on the environment, places and people around the world. There’s the moral aspect to this, which is that companies want to do good while doing business, but there’s also the profit motive. Several studies have shown that being identified as a sustainable brand attracts customers to a business, and thus improves the bottom line.
Either way, setting out a sustainability strategy for your business is no longer optional. As with all strategies though, the plan is not nearly as important as the implementation, which is why for every business such as Walmart and Unilever that has successfully implemented a sustainability strategy, there are many others that have failed at it. Here are some tips to help you get it right.
Define sustainability for your business
There’s no exact definition of sustainability. It ranges from caring for the environment by reducing waste to avoiding child labor and promoting economic development, among many other facets. Not all of those facets will be applicable to your company, however, which is why it is important to spend the time to review all aspects of your operations to identify those areas in which your operations need to become more sustainable.
For a brand like Coca-Cola, whose products require a lot of water to make, ensuring that plants are cited in locations and constructed in ways that would ensure water sustainability is a key factor in investment decisions, as analyzed in this Harvard Business School paper. It’s important to err on the side of inclusion when making these decisions, as failing to consider one aspect could set you up for very bad PR down the line.
Engage staff and other stakeholders
Your staff will be at the forefront of implementing your company’s sustainability strategy, so it makes sense to get them fully on board as early as possible. You should request input when preparing the strategy and make sure that everyone is committed to making all identified changes. This is especially important when you realize that the actions of your staff will likely be interpreted to be company policy. Their failure to act appropriately can have very damaging effects on your company’s reputation.
The same goes for suppliers, as has been seen in the blowback received by major brands over allegations that some of their suppliers make use of child labor. It’s crucial to take a virtual walk down your supply chain and engage with all suppliers or partners to identify their positions on the issues you’ve identified, get their buy-in to reform, make sure they are on track and, where necessary, change them.
Set clear, actionable goals
As soon as you have identified the areas of your operations where change is required, and after you have engaged with all relevant stakeholders, you’ll need to set clear, achievable goals to get everyone aligned and working cooperatively. Those goals must be communicated to each party whose actions would affect the chances of achieving them. For instance, in responding to the increase in cleaning demands as a result of Covid-19, cleaning businesses such as Clean Group focused on using eco-friendly supplies to reduce environmental harm.
When setting these goals, it’s crucial that they be based on the engagements you’ve had with the stakeholders. This will help to ensure buy-in and commitment, and avoid a situation where the rules seem imposed from the top without any concern for the people who’ll be responsible for implementing them.
Establish effective processes
Once you know the goals you’re aiming for, you’ll need to put systems in place that can help you achieve them. You can get inspiration from other companies in your industry, but it’s important to bear in mind that every company’s situation is unique. At this stage, it will be important to appoint officers of the company who will be responsible for establishing these processes and working to ensure they are implemented properly across the company’s operations.
Doing that will help ensure that everyone else can concentrate on implementing his or her aspect of the strategy while the officers directly responsible are able to synchronize everything and make sure everyone is working in tandem. That is why many companies have established the role of sustainability officers, with an increasing number even establishing a C-suite role, according to a Deloitte survey, to underscore the importance of sustainability in their operations.
Track and monitor everything
Monitoring is the last, but possibly the most important, step in implementing a sustainability strategy that benefits the company, stakeholders and world at large. This is because without effective monitoring systems in place, it would be impossible to tell whether the company is having any positive effect or just pouring money down the drain.
When establishing the processes that will be used by the company to achieve its goals, reporting policies must be established alongside them to ensure all stakeholders communicate their actions and results for the duration of the strategy. The feedback can then be used to iterate the strategy to make sure that every aspect is optimized to deliver the best results going forward.
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