Sep 8, 2021
5 Steps to kickstart your company's sustainability journey
So your organization has finally decided to make sustainability a core part of its business? About time! It’s no secret by now that businesses have a big role to play in terms of contributing to a more sustainable future.
Besides, as the greenest CEO in America described, "Done right, sustainability doesn’t cost. It pays".
So, here’s five steps you can get started on to kickstart your business’s sustainability journey that will pay off for years to come — for better business AND a better planet.
Step 1: Assess your organization’s impacts
A good way to start your sustainability journey is by first understanding the main impacts related to your business: where is your company creating or reducing value for society and for the environment? Such an assessment can be done with a materiality assessment:
Identify internal and external stakeholders — Whose opinions and insights do you want and need? Think: managers, board of directors, investors, trade associations, key customers, etc.
Identify what you want to include in your assessment — What issues do you want to measure? Think:
Environmental (emissions, waste management, electrical usage),
Economic (share of investments towards sustainability), and
Social (labor statistics, employee diversity, human rights)
Design your materiality survey — Design a structured survey with a data collection process that allows for the proper quantitative and/or qualitative analysis of your data.
Launch your survey — Send the survey out to stakeholders or interview them and collect their insights
Analyze the insights — Review and analyze the data: which issues were most important to each stakeholder? A tip: plot your data against the axes ‘importance to stakeholders’ and ‘impact on the business.’ Unilever's Materiality Matrix is a good example:
A materiality assessment will not only help you make sure your sustainability efforts accurately reduce your impact and return value, it will also provide insight into business risks and opportunities, and help build a business case for senior executives, CXOs, and investors for sustainability.
Step 2: Distribute responsibility, accountability, and budget
Now that you understand your company’s material impacts, risks, and opportunities, the next step will be to make sure the correct people are responsible and accountable for the right goals. For example, who better than your HR department to be responsible for ensuring that the organization reaches its racial diversity targets?
After responsibilities are delegated to the right person in the organization, ensure that a system is in place for following up on a regular basis — and trust us, that one yearly meeting with year-old data to ‘address sustainability issues’ is not enough.
Hold monthly or even weekly meetings, or have the accountable people prepare an update report. The more frequently targets are being followed-up on, the more closely progress can be monitored: following the right data insights, the more changes can be made to have problems addressed or opportunities leveraged.
It is also important to make sure someone in the organization is responsible for data management: making sure data is handled responsibly and ethically and, at the root of it, being collected frequently and accurately.
And about budget: has an appropriate budget been assigned to actually create the change you're after? If not, ensure that buy-in and budget from top management.
Step 3: Understand where you are and set targets
Let’s start off your target-setting with some advice from the UN Global Compact: set ambitious goals even if you’re not quite sure how to go about them just yet. With ambitious goals come innovation, investments, positive engagement, and ultimately performance — don’t just do what is ‘achievable’, be a gamechanger (and reap the benefits of the long game).
Not quite there yet? Setting some targets based on low hanging fruits is a good way to get the ball rolling too. Remember that target-setting should be aligned with materiality: based on your materiality assessment, which areas are more important or more urgent to create positive change for?
Need more guidance? Looking at benchmarks can be another helpful way to go about setting targets. Look out for industry, national, and even global associations that provide benchmarks to understanding: Where are we now compared to others in the industry? What are others in the industry doing? What do we want to achieve, and how can we achieve it?
For example, Livsmedelsföretagen , an organization that supports companies in the food industry in Sweden, invites its member companies to commit to its sustainability manifesto based on industry and national sustainability goals. Fossilfritt Sverige is another similar initiative, which works towards identifying key areas that need to be addressed in order to accelerate change on a national level, with the goal of making Sweden the first fossil-free nation in the world.
With the help of these benchmarks, set sustainability targets that are SMART: Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant and Time-bound. One sustainability target that many companies are scrambling to work towards right now (and rightly so) is reducing their carbon emissions.
Step 4: Getting sustainability into your company’s decision-making processes
Find out where and how decisions are being made at your organization and get sustainability into these processes!
From ensuring that sustainability is on the agenda for every management team meeting to including sustainability criteria in innovation processes, adding sustainability criterion to decision-making processes is a simple but effective way of incorporating sustainability into both everyday operations as well as big decisions. For example, are the new innovations more energy-intensive to produce than your current product? Does the new supplier have the appropriate certifications?
Step 5: Measuring and tracking
We’ve said it before and we’ll say it again: you can’t improve what you can’t measure. Measuring and tracking is the only way to follow up on your time-bound goals and to understand your progress. And how often should you measure and track? Well, we’ve established that the typical once-a-year is simply not enough. Measurements should be taken regularly, and goals should be tracked and reviewed quarterly, monthly, or even weekly. Tracking your impact on a higher frequency allows you to act quickly, based on insights gleaned from recent data.
Moreover, measuring and tracking your progress will allow you to quantify the positive effects of your sustainability efforts in a way that is comparable to other business investments, helping you strengthen your business case for future sustainability investments.
And there you go, the 5 steps you can take to kickstart your business’ sustainability journey!
Now what are you waiting for? A sustainable business doesn’t build itself - get to work and good luck!
Feeling overwhelmed? Don’t forget that you can work smarter to make a difference by investing in a sustainability management platform that can help automate the process in order to provide timely insights that are data-driven and actionable.
Here at SustainLab we believe in accelerating change for a better business and a better planet. Contact us today to find out how our platform can help you accelerate your sustainability journey and provide you with the help you need to make real impact and value.
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