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What makes a great sustainability strategy?

Deciding to incorporate a sustainability strategy into your organization is an incredible step in the right direction, however, creating a plan that brings your company into the future is no small task.

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Deciding to incorporate a sustainability strategy into your organization is an incredible step in the right direction, however, creating a plan that brings your company into the future is no small task. Sustainability for many organizations often requires a complete rethink of the products, services, and business processes that took years to design.

Here we discuss three foundational elements to support sustainable strategy development:

1. Aim for a company-wide buy-in of your sustainability strategy

Sustainability is not just about limiting or improving an organization’s environmental impact. A strong sustainability strategy also considers the social and economic footprints of the business, touching on things such as employee well-being and sustainable economic growth. 

With this in mind, a good place to begin building a sustainability strategy is at the grassroots level. What does a good sustainability strategy at your unique organization look like and need to have? 

Workshopping larger strategy questions with employees encourages them to be part of building a future for the company. It fosters collaboration around a common goal, provides a purpose to rally around, and builds community within the organization. 

Starting at the ground floor demonstrates an organization’s prioritization of the voices of its employees and ensures that any created strategy is supported by a diverse group of people and minds. 

2. Create clear and measurable goals for your sustainability strategy

Beginning with the people of an organization is the best way to find the “why” and the “what” behind sustainability, but even the most supported and exciting plan will fail without a strong “how”. 

Organizations need to build a winning business case by finding ways to align objectives with environmental and societal benefits. 

Companies often fall into the trope of sustainability reporting as a strategy, publishing greenhouse gas or carbon emissions. While transparency is essential, goals and actions are more powerful. 

Companies should look to set tangible goals and define/prioritize science-based targets. In order to realize the competitive advantages of practicing sustainability (e.g. lower operating costs, improved brand reputations, more productive staff, and compliance with current/future regulations), companies need to have clearly defined success metrics and a plan to achieve them. 

Consider aligning with the UN’s 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). This is a global framework designed to be a "blueprint to achieve a better and more sustainable future for all" and provides 169 metrics and over 230 indicators to track an organization’s sustainability strategy progress. 

Companies should also seek out external verification. Organizations like Science Based Targets provide a “clearly-defined pathway for companies to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions - and pursue efforts to limit warming to 1.5°C.” Third-parties can help educate and monitor your firm. 

Finding frameworks and certifications to work towards is another way to structure your sustainability approaches. For example, becoming a certified B corporation (i.e., a business that is “legally required to consider the impact of their decisions on their workers, customers, suppliers, community, and the environment”), can provide your organization with clear goals and targets to reach for. 

3. Transparency with the community

 A sustainability strategy isn’t as strong as the speed at which it produces results. Transparency is just as important when building trust and delivering tangible benefits for the community. 

Firms that are open about the challenges and roadblocks they face in hitting sustainability targets and acknowledge the time it will take to course-correct are demonstrating a true understanding of the uphill battle in front of them. 

People want results, however, they are probably still willing to support an organization that has a clear roadmap and system of accountability. Companies that aren’t being clear on their progress, in one way or another, can easily be criticized for green-washing, even if they have a well-thought-out and science-backed strategy. 

Firms that use their position in the economy to act as a mouthpiece for social and environmental change will earn the loyalty and support of their consumer community over time. Consumers are looking to align with organizations that make it easy for them to vote with their dollar. 

For many, sustainability is no longer a “nice to have”, it is required to have a seat at the table. Companies looking to build a sustainability strategy need to look internally and externally for inspiration and should rely heavily on transparency and realism throughout their journey.

If you need help to create your sustainability strategy, get in touch!

MORE: The Clarasys sustainability roadmap

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