When the conversation about sustainability reaches its peak, where do we go? Well, converting the words into actions is a great place to start. For businesses, this is means considerably more than putting in place a recycling scheme or banning single use coffee cups – it needs to sit firmly within your core values and play a key part in not just what your business does, but how it chooses to do it.
For organisations, sustainability has made its way up the priority ladder in parallel with its increase in importance to the consumer. As lifestyles and consumer habits change in line with the increased awareness around climate change and desire to play a part in sustainable ecosystems, these values inform where we choose to work and for whom. Deloitte, an organisation who require no introduction, recently published a survey in which they reported that “73% of employees who say they work at a ‘purpose-driven’ company are engaged, compared to just 23 percent of those who don't.” In short, if you want the best talent, then you need resonate with their values.
But it’s not simply about getting great people through the door. Every part of every organisation should be reverberating with the sound of sustainable working practices – far beyond just damage repair and control. Being quietly carbon neutral is no longer enough and we are already seeing the widespread adoption of a move towards being ‘climate positive’ – adding to decisive actions on behalf of the planet, rather than simply not being part of the problem. Ikea, for example, have pledged to become climate positive by 2030, with a strategy that includes proactively working with suppliers and customers to reduce their footprints, while also implementing a carbon-storing strategy that will reduce their own emissions in absolute terms.
This kind of approach takes commitment, collaboration and buy-in at all levels and the pressure is already on from customers and partner organisations alike to have absolute scrutiny and accountability across the supply chain. And while valuable collaborative partnerships have traditionally been built upon skills, experience and financials, a robust and visible sustainability strategy is not just a priority, but in many cases required. A call for ‘radical transparency’ may sound extreme, but a future where this level of clarity is the norm is better for everyone. A clear view of an entire supply network is not simply a Sustainability Manager’s pipedream, but a critical shift in organisational mindset that is a win for efficiency, productivity, reputation, relationship management, decreased wastage, regulatory ease and many, many other accepted business challenges. It’s already happening in the food industry, where law dictates ingredients listing of packaged food at every manufacturing stage. This is necessary transparency in action, and we already take it for granted.
Enter the army of Chief Sustainability Officers. This influx of new hires will make an immediate short-term impact, but more crucially will be the lynchpin that keeps sustainability at the heart of the boardroom, while ensuring that the vision and strategy is embedded long-term and maintains the momentum of vision. But does this mean sustainability will rise above cost saving as a board level priority? Perhaps, if only in the short term. But the very fact that the question is being asked is testament to a new understanding of its significance by business leaders. Possibly this is in light of rigorous new requirements for sustainability metrics in procurement processes. If a lack of clear and demonstrable measures is likely to lose contracts, then naturally alarm bells will ring, and cost-cutting exercises put to one side for the sake of future business. However, when the time comes to look once more at cost cutting, as our current global situation will surely necessitate, our commercial approach to sustainability should continue to hold steady. When the storm is weathered, it may prove essential to future success.