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Embedding Sustainability in Your Corporate Strategy

Isabella Goode

Nowadays, it is crucial for companies to realise that if they want to do their part in sustainability, their corporate strategy needs to change. As a result, many executives have placed sustainability as a top business priority and recognised the importance of addressing their company’s impacts on society and the environment. However, this involves implementing strategies to embed sustainability into their company’s core strategy. Therefore, if you are looking to create a vibrant and sustainable business, you will need to align your actions with upholding the resilience of the social, environmental and economic systems, in which your business operates. Below you will find a practical guide that will provide you with further guidance on how to develop a corporate strategy focused on sustainability.

Identify Emerging and Relevant Issues

The first essential step to solving any problem is to identify what problem you need to solve. As a result, if you don’t proactively scan for issues, you might run the risk of missing key political, economic, technological, legal and environmental challenges that are most urgent and relevant to your organisation. To provide enough information and make sense of the specific challenges and opportunities that apply to your unique operating context, you need to undertake a thorough and proactive scan that begins with a list of emerging issues. Then you can evaluate the extent to which these issues are relevant to your business and which ones require a strategic response.

Understand Your Potential for Influence

It is important to understand the social and environmental systems around you, which means you may need to gather more information to develop your contextual understanding. For instance, you might consider looking for business development courses online, focusing on sustainable business management. The University of Cambridge Institute for Sustainability Leadership provides a Business Sustainability Management online short course, designed to address the growing need and prevalence of sustainability practices in business. This will give you the tools to implement effective business sustainability strategies. As a result, you will enrich and evolve your understanding of key trends and learn how to drive social responsibility across your organisation.

Prioritise Sustainability Issues

Creating a robust business sustainability strategy means that sometimes you will have to make hard decisions about where to direct your limited resources and work within constraints. When it comes to prioritising sustainability issues, many businesses often ask internal and external stakeholders to rank issues. However, this process may quickly become formulaic, as it fails to consider the constraints imposed by your context. As a result, this may make your company more susceptible to systemic and emerging risks. Instead, you should implement multi-criteria decision-making that distributes limited resources in a way that yields the most value.

Acknowledge Relevant Issues

Public scrutiny of businesses and their leaders is growing, as customers, communities and investors want to see that your business is doing its fair share to address issues, such as climate change, water scarcity or inequality. As a result, they expect your organisation to acknowledge relevant issues and want to know that you can link these issues to your business strategy. This may include making credible commitments to address issues, crafting a position statement, and providing the direction and confidence for employees to act. Therefore, it is essential to meaningfully acknowledge relevant sustainability issues and demonstrate what actions you are taking.

Set Goals and Targets

You can outline the actions you will take to do your part by setting appropriate goals and interim targets. To begin with, it is advisable to evaluate your current goals and establish whether they are in alignment with maintaining system resilience. Consider whether you are transparent in the assumptions you use in setting your goals and targets. Transparency will enable internal and external stakeholders to understand your methodology and provide their input. It will also allow other companies to learn from your efforts when setting goals that better serve the environment.

Align Personal and Corporate Values

When it comes to engaging your employees to create a sustainable business, it is important to lead by example in sustainability initiatives. Remember that actions speak louder than words, which means that they play a key role in signalling values to employees. Also, if you want to integrate sustainability into your corporate strategy, you will need to close the gap between personal and corporate values. Employees often observe whether there is consistency between what the company states in its mission and what it practices. This is why it is crucial for leaders to get involved in sustainability initiatives both inside and outside the business.

Develop Sustainability Knowledge and Competence

If you want to bolster a can-do attitude among employees, you will need to invest in educating employees about sustainability. Also, it is essential to implement systems and processes that enable employees to embed sustainability into their business decisions. This is because many sustainability initiatives require specialised knowledge and expertise, and as a result sustainability decisions can be made at a large scale. Therefore, you will need to ensure top managers are not the only ones who receive sustainability training. It is important to integrate sustainability into existing training in all departments.

Co-Create Sustainable Practices With Your Team

Another key strategy to integrate sustainability into your organisation is to engage your team in the co-creation of sustainable practices. For instance, you can show employees that you are willing to act on their initiatives. If an employee has a good idea, they should feel confident that funding for sustainability projects is available and readily applied. As a result, once your employees begin to see the positive impact that they have helped create, they will start believing they do have an important role to play. Therefore, you will need to provide a framework that your employees can take advantage of.

Share and Celebrate Sustainability

Giving sustainability a profile in your company will make it on par with other business functions. However, this needs to be done at all levels, as you grow and diversify. This may include sharing news on individuals who have raised money for an important cause or celebrating your climate-positive status. It might also be beneficial to highlight sustainable healthy lifestyles, such as veganism. For instance, you may want to launch a monthly sustainability newsletter as a simple way to communicate this information and keep sustainability practices at the forefront of your thinking and actions.

Encourage Healthy Competition Among Employees

Creating a culture of healthy competition among your employees is a great way to embrace a new set of goals. There are many skills that spur competition, including a willingness to push boundaries, teamwork and problem-solving skills. These are the same skills that are necessary to introduce change when it comes to sustainability. Moreover, encouraging healthy competition can connect employees to both the core business areas, as well as non-profit organisations. In addition, you can recognise employees who have made the biggest difference in encouraging sustainable living by hosting company awards.

Make Sustainability Efforts Visible

Visibility plays a huge role in changing people’s beliefs and attitudes and influencing their behaviours. Therefore, it is important to measure and communicate key sustainability indicators, as this always attracts people’s focus. As a result, employees are likely to want to succeed in the dimensions that they’re measured on. It may be useful to develop indicators and track the progress of your sustainability agenda. Apart from metrics, you can also implement signage and symbols, such as notices in washrooms or signs encouraging employees to get involved in various sustainability initiatives.

Consider the Impact of Your Business

If you are a small business, you may think that your impact on overcoming climate change is insignificant. However, it is recommended to take the time to produce annual impact reports and link back to your purpose and strategy on sustainability. When considering your impact, think about the clients and suppliers you have engaged with and the amount of sustainable knowledge that has been shared. In addition, you can talk to your team and find out if they consider their social and environmental impact more than before. Looking at your impact will allow you to determine whether you have acted sustainably as a purposeful collective.

Review and Revisit Your Strategy

Reviewing and revisiting your strategy can be done at regular intervals through check surveys. It is crucial for leaders to bring matters of sustainability to the table or find a sustainability expert who can support the organisation in this process. At this point, it is also important to determine who is responsible for sustainability. You will need to decide whether it sits with an individual or a team of individuals with expertise in the area. This will allow you to develop a purpose-driven strategy to measure actions.

Create Transformational Change

Finally, it is important to unite employees around a higher social purpose so that you can lead change effectively. You will need to show employees that achieving sustainability is not just about them or even their own company, but rather a societal issue with global implications. Therefore, it might be helpful to look for new opportunities and partner with other companies to make a difference, whether in your value chain or competitors. External engagement will not only help you embed sustainability, but it will ensure you can build legitimacy and credibility.

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