Businesses can no longer afford to ignore sustainability. it is repeatedly highlighted by customers, business partners and employees as a vital consideration when deciding who to buy from, work with and work for. Wilbury stratton has been tasked with researching this crucial area across a wide array of industries, including financial services, pharma, media & advertising and FMCG. Our research has brought up many questions, such as how does a business best tackle sustainability topics? which issues should it focus on? Should sustainability be located as its own function or report into corporate affairs? is it necessary to have in-house scientists working on sustainability issues?
1.OUR RESEARCH HAS LED US TO THE FOLLOWING CONCLUSIONS: CLIMATE FAILURE SITS WITH THE C-SUITE
The best run, most successful sustainability teams are empowered by strong, vocal CEOs. Depending on the industry, we have found sustainability reporting into Procurement, Corporate Affairs, Marketing & Comms and the C-suite. Most common is a reporting line into Corporate Affairs but this is changing. Sustainability professionals recommend a direct line into the C-suite, preferably the CEO themselves or a designated Chief Sustainability Officer.
2. IF YOU’VE GOT A BIG, CENTRAL SUSTAINABILITY TEAM, YOU’VE ALREADY MISSED THE POINT
The most sustainable companies embed sustainability across the whole business and only co-ordinate efforts (with a small team) from the centre. Though it may sound counterproductive, having a small central teams are often more effective than large ones. This set-up is found in numerous companies with advanced sustainability capability because it allows the onus of delivery to be pushed onto the business itself. In other words, sustainability (with the exception of the central team) is truly embedded. This does not mean sustainability professionals work alongside operations professionals; it means the two are one and the same.
3. SUSTAINABILITY NEEDS TO BE ENSHRINED IN THE COMPANY VALUES
Companies that make sustainability an essential part of their brand are best suited to making it business critical Publicly stated company ‘values’ and ‘purposes’ should endorse and promote the sustainability agenda. This implicitly makes each employee accountable for a company’s specific goals. If sustainability is an essential part of the business, it does not fall to the wayside when times are tough, e.g. during a global pandemic. In fact, sustainability was noted as even more crucial post-COVID-19 as businesses need to make their return to normalcy (or the new normal) in a way which prioritises sustainable growth.
4. DEVELOPING A SUSTAINABILITY-FOCUSED CORPORATE CULTURE IS ESSENTIAL
This requires involvement from C-suite, marketing, and both centralised and embedded sustainability professionals Sources stressed the importance of this being led from the top, with a CEO and leadership who are vocal on sustainability. It is vital to include various functions – sales, marketing, supply chain etc. – in specific programmes in order to build purpose and values into sustainability efforts.
5. IT IS NOT ONLY A PASSION BUT A REQUIREMENT FOR EMPLOYEES
Back in 2015, The Guardian was writing articles about the importance of sustainability for hiring millennials and our research supports this.
Employees increasingly look at the sustainability record of potential employers with many sources across industries stating that sustainability was a top consideration whenconsidering a career move.The millennial generation is slowly becoming affluent, allowing it to back up its longstanding belief in sustainable business with genuine consumer power. Graduates regularly rank the environment as an issue of high concern and are more likely to join a company which can demonstrate a similar value-set.
6. EMPLOYEES WANT TO GET INVOLVED, SO USE THEM
Employee ambassador programmes are noted by companies across industries as constituting a pivotal aspect of their sustainability work. Sustainability ambassadors evangelise and encourage internally on the subject of sustainability. They can play a key role in helping the central sustainability team craft the business case for particular directives, thereby improving the chances of company-wide compliance. These programmes can range from dozens to thousands of employees across the world and help to drive sustainability topics, communicate work across the business and embed it into every region and function. The best companies we looked at utilise employee passion and incorporate ambassadors into a business-wide approach.
7. DON’T FORGET ABOUT DIVERSITY
Diversity & Inclusion has prompted restructures and renewed commitments Gender has long been at the forefront of diversity initiatives but this is starting to change. Black Lives Matters protests and an increased focus on race and ethnicity worldwide has likewise led to renewed focus on the topic within businesses. Despite sitting separately from sustainability, our research shows that Diversity & Inclusion professionals often work closely and harmoniously with the sustainability function.
8. IT IS IMPORTANT TO ALIGN SUSTAINABILITY GOALS WITH THE BUSINESS IN A WAY WHICH MAKES SENSE
Sources stress the importance of craftingan agenda relevant to a company’s product and service offering This will change depending on which industry the business operates in. In FMCG companies, developing a sustainability initiative which ties in closely with a specific brand and/or product led to huge business, environmental and social benefits. For service industries – consulting or marketing & comms – picking a topic which feels like it has a natural relationship with the business (such as digital skills) helps to create a cohesive sustainability plan.
9. BE SELECTIVE ABOUT THE UN SDGS YOU ALIGN WITH
Fewer, carefully thought-out sustainability initiatives which tackle issues related to the business are more effective and better received by stakeholders than throwing all the UN SDGs at the wall and seeing which sticks Don’t align with every single UNSDG. For certain sustainability giants, signing up with all 17 UN SDGs works well as they have far-reaching programmes which address each topic. However, the lesson for everyone else might best be summarised as ‘less is more’.
10. NOT ONLY DOES SUSTAINABILITY HELP THE PLANET, IT HELPS BALANCE SHEETS
Consumers and investors are more likely to favour a sustainable business. Companies which appear not to be part of the ‘discussion’ will lose business as a result. Sustainability services are increasingly being offered by media and comms companies; they have long been provided by the
Big 4 and other consulting houses. Unless such companies can show they ‘practice what they preach’, they will lose credibility and, therefore, clients.P&G’s Sustainable Living brands regularly outperform the rest of the business and contribute a disproportionately high amount to yearly revenue.