Have you ever wondered how to completely grasp sustainability? Did you get that paper recycling bin or change to LED lights in the office? Great! Now, let us look at sustainability in the bigger picture. Let us get closer to incorporating sustainability into the heart and soul of your company. All the way into the board room where the big decisions are made and the success rate is measured.
You may be familiar with the concept of Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) and green businesses. Concern about the planet and minimising the use of limited resources is often the focus when companies implement sustainability measures. To be fully sustainable we need to understand the great complexity of the issue and how actions today impact tomorrow in a long-term perspective. Sustainability is about longevity and survival over time. This is where people enter the equation.
The LINK spoke to Elisabet Vinberg Hearn, founder and Senior Leadership Strategist at Think Solutions that specialises in strategic consulting, executive coaching and sustainability leadership. Hearn emphasised that companies can only be truly sustainable once they consider the bigger, more complete picture and look at how they are using and impacting all the resources they need to survive, to do good and to exist over time. This entails looking at people, for example how employees are treated, how the company is handling their suppliers and lastly how the company impacts society itself. A business really needs to understand – who are the people it is dependent on, who are dependent on the business and whether the partnership is transparent and ethical. “It is of importance to secure a mutual interdependence in a transparent ethical way,” said Hearn. This is a way of truly considering people sustainability and taking the step to incorporate sustainability within the business strategy, she added. Sustainability should be a strategy and an attitude, Hearn continued. “It is not a tick-box exercise, it is much more than that. It is the only way to go for a chance of survival over time. Otherwise why even bother?”
Sustainability often plays a part in daily operations in the shape of a sustainability department, a plan that is “soon put in a folder and forgotten” or the whole responsibility is laid on one person’s shoulder as Head of Sustainability, according to Hearn.
She said: “A department or a key person is great for support or to drive an agenda but it tends to make other employees sit back because it gets taken care of by that department or person.”
That is why sustainability needs to be implemented in the business strategy, because absolutely everyone needs to be involved and take responsibility for sustainability within a company and management needs to take a lead on this, she added.
A very tangible way of making sure that you are making progess according to Hearn is to start putting together short-, mid- and long-term goals with the biggest focus on the long-term. Results may not be seen right away and therefore quarterly results evaluation may not be the most efficient way of presenting the results of a sustainable strategy. Therefore, it is of importance to explain to shareholders and stakeholders that there will come a time when this will pay off, but they are not going to see the result right away.
Among other things Hearn talked about the importance of considering the triple bottom line that describes the “three P concept” – people, planet and, profit. It is a quite simplistic yet efficient way to describe the complexity of sustainability, Hearn said. Balancing these concepts help to achieve a sustainable business and the concept is easily tailored to needs of one specific organisation. The challenge is to find the right measurements from data and calculations, that could be amount of taxes paid (profit), average hours of training per employee (people) and typical environmental measurements such as water consumption or amount of waste (planet). However, putting this challenge aside, the triple bottom line enables a business to evaluate decision-making from a long-term perspective.
But Hearn reiterated that sustainability is not a quick fix with a few actions that can be ticked off a list. However, if you want to reflect on your organisation’s sustainability efforts, there are five recommendations from Hearn to get you started.
1. Make sustainability an organisational strategy, an integral part of how you think about your business – not an add-on
2. Teach leaders about sustainability to understand the dynamics and complexity of the issue so they can effectively lead people and business practices in a sustainable way
3. Involve employees in all parts of the organisation in the sustainability dialogue – it is everyone’s responsibility
4. Map out your business process, dependencies, and stakeholders to really understand how actions and behaviours in the organisation affect all the resources you depend on for longevity – human, natural and financial
5. Set short-, mid- and long-term goals to encourage assessment of that impact over time, helping people to act more strategically