How to introduce a sustainability strategy into your organisation
Sustainability panel discussion
Rose Heathcote, Senior Adviser at Thinking People & Senior Lecturer at University of Buckingham
Gary Cundill, Visiting Lecturer at University of Buckingham School of Business
Nick Reilly, Director at Sustainable X
Lorraine Mackin, Studying sustainability & climate action. Ex-Global Head of Government at KPMG & Ad Esse Consulting Founder.
Gurdeep Gahir, Director at Ad Esse Consulting
(HOST) Rhiannon Gibbs, Director at Ad Esse Consulting
On the 13th January 2023, our panel of sustainability experts (mentioned above) gathered to discuss your questions. Watch the full discussion here. Unfortunately there wasn’t time to answer every question, but our panel provided this written response below.
“What would be your recommendation on the best approach for introducing a sustainability strategy to a medium to large organisation? What does the ideal sustainability programme look like?”
How to introduce a sustainability strategy to an organisation? First, don’t have one! Multiple strategies lead to confusion, poor implementation and less than optimal results. Instead, weave sustainability into the organisation’s overall strategy.
Start with the end in mind: at whatever time horizon you have chosen, what do you see the organisation looking like? Think about performance, both financial and non-financial: what do you want the organisation to achieve? Look critically at your aiming point, ensuring that it meets the sustainability criteria that matter to you. Only then is it time to start laying out the plans to get there.
Totally agree with Gary. We talked about integration and creating a sustainable culture and business modelling as business-as-usual from day one. We’ve always encouraged clients to define the ‘perfect’ future state model and then get a clear strategy and plan to achieve and this is no different.
The Sustainable Development Goals would provide a good framework to ensure your future state includes all elements.
Educate and engage your people to understand your definition of sustainability (Environmental, Social and Governance), and understand the associated risks and opportunities generically. Then build a cross functional team to work on managing your organisation’s sustainability. Their initial brief could be to identify the most significant impacts of your organisation using a framework for reference such as the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, or even Global Reporting Initiative for larger organisations. The group should consult wider stakeholders to capture their views and concerns.
The impacts can be positive and negative, and should be prioritised by their significance. You can then decide which ones to tackle in the short and medium term. These can then be given owners who can identify if the impact is measurable, measured and how each can be improved. When aggregated this gives a potential suite of measurements and targets to propose to the appropriate level of management, ideally with a business case identifying the benefits and costs of achieving each. Once signed off, the organisation can then start communicating their state of play, strategies and plans to accelerate their sustainable development. This transparency avoids greenwashing and holds everyone accountable.
The final step is to build the reporting, assessment and update process into business as usual.
In my view, strategy is about choosing what to improve, whether from a competitive or sustainability point of view. Kate Raworth (author of Doughnut Economics) explains a sweet spot to strive for where we don’t overshoot ecological boundaries or fall short on social foundations.
In this safe and just space, organisations look at their impact on planetary boundaries and work out how to improve and tread more lightly and morally as they go about their business. For example, to find and face ecological problems and bring into the overarching strategy, look up and down the value chain to spot opportunities and solve problems that matter to the planetary boundaries:
- Climate change: Target greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and boosting biodiversity
- Biodiversity loss and land conversion: Improve use of existing capacity and regenerate nature and biodiversity
- Energy: Consume less, design products better and switch to planet-friendly alternatives
- Landfill: Keep products and material in circulation for longer and regenerate
- Air pollution: Improve energy sources, reduce and capture pollution
- Chemical pollution: Eliminate toxins from design and regenerate contaminated land
- Ocean degradation: Target GHG’s and eliminate ocean pollution
- Freshwater withdrawals and contamination: Consume less, harvest more and keep the water clean
- Ozone layer depletion: Deal with residual CFC’s and improve alternatives for less impact
- Deforestation: Use less impactful materials and consumable, keep materials in circulation for longer and regenerate
- Nitrogen and phosphorous loading: Protect soil and waterways from excess fertilizers and human waste and regenerate
The above just skims the surface, but taking a systems view of the problems to be solved across the supply chain leads to targeting levers at a granular level. By following Lean problem-solving thought-processes, such as A3 thinking and Kaizen, the challenges can be framed and opportunities sought to be worked on every day, by everyone in a scientific way.
A huge thank you to our panel of sustainability panel of experts. This is part of our ‘Lean is Green’ January. If you have any questions, email email@example.com.