How can companies ensure that sustainability, corporate citizenship, and corporate social responsibility, stick in a business? It’s the hardest task facing sustainability managers today, according to Ethical Corporation’s recent report “How to embed sustainability across different parts of your company.” In that report, 50 leading companies felt that their biggest challenges were: performance measurement, internal reporting, external reporting, partnerships and collaboration, and community engagement.
I heard sustainability leaders from Xerox, ING and Henkel share how they’re driving sustainability through their organizations at the Ethical Corporation’s Responsible Business Summit 2011 in New York earlier this week. For two days, I learned from top practitioners and conversed with sustainability practitioners from a diverse array of companies around the world. Perhaps because of the conference sponsor’s U.K. roots, the meeting had a distinctively international flavor, which made it all the more interesting.
Patricia Calkins, Global Vice-President, Environment, Health and Safety for Xerox, outlined four steps her company uses.
1 –Articulate clear, well-defined roles and metrics. Make sure that people understand their role and how they can help achieve organizational goals.
2 – Maintain a value chain focus. Recognize that your impact goes beyond your four walls. Understand how your decisions impact the world at large.
3 – Make sure your actions make economic sense. The first requirement of any business is to stay in business.
4 – Go for quick wins with an easy payback. Experiencing success will get more employees engaged, energized and excited about sustainability.
As an example of a quick win, Calkins cited Xerox’s Energy Challenge 2012. Introduced in 2004, this goal called for reducing Xerox’s carbon footprint by 10% by 2012 on an absolute basis. Not only did Xerox achieve this goal six years early, it far surpassed that goal, achieving a reduction of 18%. In the process, the company saved $18 million. Xerox achieved its goal by focusing on two key areas: operational changes and product innovation.
Calkins also emphasized the importance of metrics and incentives, noting that “What gets measured gets managed and what is incented gets focused on.” Xerox carefully develops meaningful incentives for those employees who can best drive the desired change. Finally, the organization uses results of its employee engagement survey to provide feedback on executive performance.
“Our sustainability department is not responsible for driving sustainability, everybody is. Our role is to help set metrics for other departments to follow,” concluded Calkins.