In the final part of our series on creating a sustainability strategy, we look at how to ensure the success of your hard-worked plans.
- Where are we now?
- Where do we want to be?
- How do we get there?
- How do we ensure success?
No-one said that putting together a sustainability strategy would be easy. There may be the temptation to close the file on your glossy presentation deck and think, “job done”. To a point, that’s true. But – and here’s the sting – you need to ensure it’s a success.
Bring your strategy to life
Your sustainability strategy may have been a high priority for you over several months. Chances are, it hasn’t appeared on the radar of others in quite the same way. If you’re lucky, you have the support you need to champion sustainability at the executive level. But what about the rest of the business?
Sustainability does not — and cannot — exist as a solo project. Everyone has a touchpoint with sustainability, whether they realise it or not. From choosing reusable cups to selecting new suppliers, sustainability features somewhere. You’ll need to find ways to make it as much a consideration as cost, service or reliability.
Our last blog mentioned how a sustainability working group can help. Bringing together people from across the business with a common goal helps to champion the notion of sustainability. Those same people can be a great asset in sharing the strategy and ensuring everyone feels involved.
Another consideration is the top-down approach. A sustainability-savvy CEO is wonderful, but most CEOs have full agendas, so they can’t always prioritise. How they share the focus with their executive team can influence the overall success of the strategy.
While there are justifiable concerns that executive ESG targets and bonuses may be open to greenwash, a clear strategy helps reduce that risk. Defining measurable and tangible metrics that are both short- and long-term will help to drive action. The targets are cascaded down through the organisation so that the goals are shared and everyone works together. Twenty-four per cent of the S&P 500 index companies (which tracks the 500 largest companies on the US stock exchanges) have incorporated ESG into executive compensation as a standalone metric. In contrast, around 30% of FTSE 250 companies include ESG in annual bonuses. However, that’s a doubling from the previous year (2020).
Companies with a good track record in delivering on sustainability commitments often have a sustainability dashboard. The dashboard provides insight into the high-level progress of sustainability objectives over a period of time. It can be a simple approach of red, amber, and green against targets or more formal and show tracking towards an end goal.
Sharing progress via a dashboard is an excellent way to keep employees updated and engaged. Options include employee briefings, management meetings, on the intranet, or posters or screens in offices. Siemens takes it a step further, sharing its progress online.
Another way to track progress is the EcoVadis platform, which assesses companies on a wide range of sustainability metrics. As a member, you can chart your own progress, but importantly, you can also evaluate your supply chain. Understanding where the most significant impacts are and how your suppliers are performing helps you meet your own goals.
Plan, do, check, act
One point I always make about sustainability is that it’s never ‘done’. Setting mid- to long-term targets will always mean there’s room for change. Strategies evolve for many reasons; early achievement, customer or market demand updates, and new legislation. It’s important to check against your progress on planned items and try and anticipate changes.
One of the foundation points of international standards is the ‘plan, do, check, act’ approach. It’s a straightforward approach that works well. Plan and do are self-explanatory, referring to your strategy and implementation. Check means looking at how well you are delivering, for example, the right activity at the right time. But have you considered the latest legislation or stakeholder input? Are the risks and opportunities evolving in your business or sector? Do you have the right people and resources to deliver? If not, then act. Review your goals and targets. Update your deadlines and refresh your plan — remembering to communicate along the way.
Remember, transparency is key to sustainability. It won’t be perfect. It may not meet all your deadlines when you expect. But by being open and accountable for your progress, you build greater trust among your teams, customers, suppliers and communities.