While shiny new sustainability projects continue to draw attention from the media, NAEM’s recent trends report revealed a new rubric for sustainability performance within companies. The criteria: alignment with the business strategy, integration into business operations, and achieving measurable results.
“I think execution has become a real focus in a significant number of companies,” one research participant explained. “And it turns out, doing fewer things but really developing the action agenda required to move them from strategy to actual impact is very important.”
For seasoned professionals, the idea that successful programs should have a strong business case may not come as much of a surprise, but according to research participants, not every company has been so disciplined about vetting their sustainability projects.
“[There] are still companies that are not tough-minded enough about how they develop their environmental agendas. As a result, they produce strategies that are not as business-like, not as carefully constructed as they need to be,” one participant explained.
One way companies are refining their focus is through the use of materiality assessments. A materiality assessment is a strategic planning tool that helps companies evaluate new initiatives in terms of the company’s reason for being as well as their ability to achieve results.
Sustainability goals are another growing area of scrutiny, participants said. If they have too long a horizon or are too audacious, they start to lose their relevancy to the business.
“We've had long-term goals for a long time, but a lot of people are thinking like, ‘We’ve set this goal that's so aggressive, [but] we don't know how we're going to get there.’ Is that meaningful? Is it too far out in the future that it’s not even meaningful? So some companies that are earlier in this process I think are struggling with that a bit.”
Among those who responded to NAEM’s trends survey, companies are increasingly looking to the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to help set goals that will drive impact they seek. The idea behind the framework is that the projects EHS&S professionals undertake will contribute to collective efforts to address the systemic societal and environmental challenges that pose risks for their companies.
Over the next several years, as sustainability continues to be integrated more deeply into operations, NAEM’s research suggests there will be more conversation about setting effective EHS&S metrics, prioritizing efforts and measuring the impact companies are making in the world.
“The reality here is the reality that business people generally know well,” one participant said. “A great plan is only a plan. You need the implementation and follow-through to ensure that it does produce a payoff.”
Previously posted on 3BL Media News.
Image credit: Susan Yin/Unsplash
NAEM, the National Association for Environmental Management, is a non-profit professional association that empowers corporate leaders to advance environmental stewardship, create safe and healthy workplaces, and promote global sustainability.