Even though more than 50% of all business executives consider Corporate Sustainability Management as being ”very” or ”extremely” important, the majority have not incorporated it as part of their business practice yet. How can this be done in the best way?
Without question sustainability has been, and will continue to be, an important trend over the next decade. Governments are enforcing sustainability initiatives and assuming a proactive role in protecting their citizens, while consumers increasingly grow their preference around brands that promote and act on societal sustainability and think more about humans than profits.
Concurrently, a recent study that compared companies with well-integrated social and environmental policies and those without, found that “high sustainability” companies significantly outperform their counterparts over an 18 year-period. Actually, “high sustainability” companies had on average 4.8% higher stock market performance than their counterparts.
The advantages are many. But how can those that still not work with Corporate Sustainability Management proactively create the optimal conditions to embed sustainability in the strategy and operations?
Establish an enterprise-wide vision and include external stakeholders
Despite the importance of Corporate Sustainable Management, a McKinsey study shows that only 27 percent of respondents say their CEOs or other C-level executives run their company’s sustainability initiatives.
This is worrying, as a genuine commitment from top management is inevitably important to drive the process throughout the organisation. Top-level executives are unquestionably the ones who have the ability to create an enterprise-wide vision and the clout to see that it is realized.
Having a strong business case communicated from the top enables a company to incorporate sustainability into the core of its business, and at the same time inspire the company employees through the CEO’s own vision and personal commitment.
To make Corporate Sustainability Management implementation company-wide a success, a long term view, when making decisions, is needed and it must be acknowledged that sustainability goals cannot be achieved overnight.
Also, sustainability should not only be on the agenda on the overall strategic level. Sustainability considerations must mutually be reflected in more basic business decisions such as operating budgets and capital investments.
Moreover, to be able to succeed with sustainability. a company should not only rely on internal expertise, experience and way of thinking. The best sustainable companies learn from the outside and are great at encouraging their employees to assimilate knowledge from external sources such as peers from other companies similar in size.
On the overall level, companies that succeed with sustainability also cooperate with other organisations to advance their goals.
Employees need to believe in and be engaged with the vision
Leadership commitment and involvement of external partners are very important in order to make Corporate Sustainability Management a success. But not a sufficient condition alone.
Building internal support through employee engagement is just as important. The reason for this is that implementing and executing a sustainable strategy requires behavioural change by all employees within the organisation.
We all know that changing behaviour is not an easy task. The employees therefore need to believe that it is all worth it. They also need to understand how they actively can contribute to making the vision a reality. An emphasis on employee engagement and efforts to continuously secure the interest and attention of employees is crucial.
The companies with the most well-incorporated sustainability management practices are usually also more likely to have clear strategies for employee engagement compared to their counterparts.
Enterprise-wide management systems must be incorporated
By promoting employee engagement and acting on the commitment to sustainability, the CEO drives the change through the organisation-wide mechanisms.
Best case sustainable companies usually have enterprise-wide management systems for executing such sustainable strategies, compared to companies that are not committed to sustainability. These are structured frameworks of practices and processes which make sure that the company can execute in a consistent manner.
In those cases, the management makes sure that sustainability is thought into all enterprise-wide strategies by incorporating the sustainability metrics into the budgeting process, setting clear targets for sustainability objectives and establishing targeted programs linking the objectives to business results.
Currently, many of the methods used to measure the impacts of sustainability are still not precise and consistent enough. Many traditional metrics do not measure the aspects of sustainability that are material to the specific company.
Therefore, setting the right metrics and key performance indicators are remaining to be one of the biggest struggles of all companies focusing on sustainability.
Despite the challenges, and rather than letting the metrics challenges stall their process, sustainable companies – especially the successful ones – are continuing to be persistent by testing new methods and metrics and encouraging the new ways of thinking.
As with everything, it is the persistence, the genuine dedication and believe that separates the great sustainability implementation from the bad.
So how willing are you to invest in sustainability in your cooperation and make it a success? Let us know in the comment section below.
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