90% of business leaders say sustainability is important for them, but only 60% have actually implemented a strategy in this sense. Sustainability can, indeed, feel like a difficult goal to achieve.
Truth be told, though, implementing a sustainability strategy doesn’t have to be a struggle. Sustainability-based investing can help companies align with their values and create long-term value for shareholders across a variety of verticals.
In this article, we're looking at sustainability through the prism of employee engagement, how finding meaning at work can help HRs, and how sustainability may be the ultimate way to navigate the Great Everythings That Have Happened in Employment Over the Last Three Years.
Curious to learn more? Keep reading.
What Is a Sustainability Strategy?
Long story short, a sustainability strategy is a way for companies to consider environmental, social, and governance concerns in their decision-making. It’s not just about doing good – it’s also about doing it well. A sustainability strategy involves a variety of moving parts, including (but not limited to):
- Monitoring the environmental and social performance of suppliers
- Implementing sustainability initiatives such as reducing energy consumption
- Developing policies to support recycling and green practices
These efforts can help ensure that companies consider the impact of their decisions on all stakeholders, from shareholders to employees.
Why Is Environmental Sustainability Important for Business?
Companies that incorporate sustainability into their business practices often find this comes with a slew of other benefits, like improved access to capital, better employee engagement and retention rates, and ultimately higher profits.
Let's take a closer look at each of the main advantages of focusing on a sustainability strategy:
Improved Risk Management
Sustainability strategies can help reduce a company's exposure to certain risks, such as energy prices. By proactively managing these types of risks before they happen and prophylactically addressing them, companies can leverage their sustainability strategies to shore up their financial stability.
Increased Employee Engagement
Between The New Normal, The Great Enlightenment, The Great Resignation, and The Great Regret, employee engagement isn't doing well. In 2021, only 34% of employees were engaged, an issue that has only deepened into 2022, with companies losing trillions of US dollars as a result of low engagement. A looming recession (which may or may not come), the rise of AI fears, and mounting tech layoffs have likely not helped the case or made anyone feel more actively engaged at work.
Building a solid sustainability strategy may be the way to bring engagement back into the office (be it virtual or not). Where ping pong tables and free coffee fail to keep employees engaged with the companies they work for, meaning can do a lot more. Sustainability strategies are all about finding meaning and being good actors on the grand stage of corporate responsibility. By investing in initiatives that are meaningful to employees, companies can better engage them with their values and create an environment that makes people excited to come to work.
Many companies already do it, with studies showing that, post-pandemic, expectations for businesses to drive environmental, social, and governance concerns have grown by 27%.
Enhanced Brand Reputation
A focus on sustainability can also help companies build a better, more authentic brand reputation. Consumers are increasingly aware of the impact their spending has on the environment, and they’re looking to support brands their values can align with. Between a shampoo company that doesn't use recycled plastics and one that does (and promises to plant a tree for every one of its products sold), customers will likely choose the latter.
Growing concerns over the environment, social instability, and stagnation of inclusion projects in the workplace are driving more and more customers to continuously seek out brands that demonstrate a commitment to sustainable practices. Companies with a sustainability strategy will be rewarded by consumers -- it may not happen now, on the spot, but it will happen.
Better Access to Capital
The more you manage risk, grow your brand, and ensure a high level of employee engagement and retention, the better your access to capital will be. It's easy to see why: investors looking for a good return on their money will favor companies that have demonstrated a solid commitment to sustainability over those that haven't.
Ultimately, a focus on sustainability can lead to higher profits. An effective sustainability strategy can reduce risk and help companies access more capital, which leads to stronger performance and higher returns. Furthermore, sustainability strategies can help companies attract and retain talent, reduce costs, and ultimately achieve a higher level of profitability.
The Purpose of an Sustainability Strategy
Some (many) companies add sustainability as part of their overall business strategy, but fail to see it as more than boxes to tick off. Doing this won't get them very far. A successful environmental sustainability strategy requires an understanding of the company and its values, dedication to monitoring progress, and a focus on constantly looking for ways to improve. It should be about doing better by the environment, society, and employees -- not just checking off boxes.
The purpose of a sustainability strategy is to ensure a company's activities align with its values and the values of its audience and employees. It's about doing better by everyone involved, whether it's by reducing energy consumption, planting trees, encouraging recycling, or supporting local charities. Whatever it is, the goal is not to "look good on paper" but to enact real change on real issues.
Sustainability Strategy Examples
A sustainability strategy is more than just a list of tactics you can enact -- it's about finding the best solutions for your company, customers, and employees. Here are some examples of how how you could create and set in place a sustainability strategy:
- Develop an energy consumption strategy that aims to reduce the company's carbon footprint.
- Establish a recycling program for office materials, such as paper and plastic.
- Partner with local charities to provide support for green causes.
- Encourage employees to bike, carpool, or use public transportation for business trips.
How to Build a Sustainability Strategy
To build a sustainability strategy, you need to take a structured approach to why, how, and when everything will be done. In a nutshell, building a sustainability strategy takes the following steps:
At this stage, you need to determine who will be involved in the process, and how exactly they will bring their contribution to building, enacting, and improving your sustainability strategy. For example, this could include senior management, employees, customers, suppliers, shareholders etc.
The materiality assessment refers to the process of analyzing and determining which environment-related issues are relevant to your company. This means assessing the economic, environmental, and social impact that certain activities, initiatives, or policies will have on each stakeholder group.
Sustainability Goals Setting
Once you have identified the stakeholders and the issues you could address, you need to set sustainability-related goals that are realistic and achievable. These should be based on the materiality assessment and should focus on both long-term and short-term goals.
Sustainability Policies and Practices Development
Now that you have identified the material issues and set environment and sustainability-related goals, you need to develop policies and practices that will help your company become more responsible.
Monitoring and Reporting on Progress
You won't know how you're doing if you don't set clear KPIs and measurement protocols and systems in place. Reporting on your progress is important because it helps you know where you're standing, communicating the evolution of each project to stakeholders, and, ultimately, make the necessary changes to increase the efficiency of your sustainability strategy.
For example, if one of your sustainability goals is to reduce carbon consumption in the office, you could measure the percentage of energy consumption generated by renewable sources, or compare the current figures to ones from previous years. Likewise, you could implement a Hybrid Workplace Analytics system like Yarooms, which allows you to track how much CO2 you save by enabling remote work.
Engaging with Stakeholders & Continuous Improvement
The feedback loops and input from stakeholders should be taken into account to improve your sustainability strategy. This could include collecting feedback from customers, employees, and other stakeholders on the initiatives you have implemented.
Also, it's important to remember that these strategies are not static -- they should be regularly reviewed and revised according to new industry trends, changes in regulations, and the input collected from stakeholders. This will ensure that your strategy is always evolving and staying ahead of the curve, instead of stalling or, worse, regressing.
Want to know how other companies encourage sustainability in the workplace? Check out our roundup of tips from actual business leaders!
Building (and implementing!) a sustainability strategy isn't the easiest thing you'll do -- but the benefits far outweigh the effort that goes into such an endeavor. At the end of the day, when job hopping and employee dissatisfaction are still the "name of the game", and when consumer behaviors are shifting away from "blind trust" to "we all need to be accountable for what happens next", an environmentally-friendly approach to business is no longer just a "nice to have" -- it's essential for any organization looking to remain competitive in the long run.