Editor’s note: This post was originally published on the Sustainabilist blog.
By Chris Librie
Creating a sustainability strategy sounds daunting, doesn’t it? Trust me, it doesn’t have to be. And like any major project or business transformation, it's best approached systematically. Here’s my high-level guide.
Since that’s a bit of a mouthful, I often focus on the triple bottom line – or “people, planet, profit” – the three elements that must be in balance in order to achieve sustainable results. I like to emphasize that profit is one of these. Otherwise, your business will not survive long enough to have a positive impact!
Materiality analyses can be done simply by talking with a number of leaders inside and outside your organization. In large companies, materiality is frequently represented as a matrix, and the issues are often grouped by strategic themes. In any event, the business should focus its sustainability strategy on those issues most important to stakeholders and the company.
For illustration purposes, here’s a great example from PG&E’s 2015 sustainability report.
I led these efforts at two companies, and we gained many critical insights. In both cases, the company’s direct impacts – its offices and other owned operations – were only about 10 percent of the total footprint. The rest of the impacts were either upstream – in the supply chain – or downstream in customers’ use of products and services.
Perhaps the transportation of products from your factories to customers is a major factor. At one company, we improved our inventory practices to minimize the use of air shipments for just that reason. And if yours is a services company, reducing travel through teleconferencing can improve your footprint. Or perhaps stakeholders expect you to uphold and improve human rights in your value chain. Of course, efficiencies in your facilities, such as smart building technology and renewable energy should also be considered.
Throughout this analysis, be sure to balance the largest sustainability impacts with each project's return on investment.
Many companies produce an annual sustainability report for just this reason. The report should be leveraged in your customer materials and other stakeholder-facing communications to maximize its impact. Remember to be transparent; not every project will succeed and not every goal will be met easily and on time. It’s better to be open about triumphs as well as setbacks; that builds credibility.
Some of these measures will be hard data (e.g. cost savings), while others can be captured in surveys (e.g. employee engagement) and some are even qualitative in nature. Whatever the data sources, detailing the positive impacts sustainability makes to your company is critical to maintaining organizational commitment and investment.
Image credit: Pixabay
Chris Librie is an experienced professional who has created successful sustainability strategies and top-tier results at two major corporations. He believes strongly in the business-building benefits of sustainability, as well as its importance in driving business purpose. And Chris loves building communications plans to help companies tell their stories to internal and external stakeholders.