A great sustainability strategy is one that does not end with a consideration of costs but thinks about the totality of the business within its place in the economy and its place in the world. Absence of the following 8 key actions will undermine the long term success of sustainability strategy in a business:
- Connect to cash – It’s amazing how many sustainability professionals don’t stop to reflect on how their business actually makes money. Connecting their strategy to cash requires an awareness of how the business makes cash, the cost of sustainability activities and opportunities to reduce costs and grow revenues.
- Make and keep making the business case – Sustainability professionals usually know they need to make a business case. But too often it’s seen as a singular act. Once the Board or Executive signs off the plan that’s the business case made, right? Wrong. A sustainability strategy needs a business case that is repeated over and over again.
- Engage customers and suppliers – Sustainability people gravitate towards people they agree with, which often means NGOs, regulators, campaigners or academics. But sustainability leaders need to gravitate more towards the people who make a business possible: customers and suppliers.
- Engage at the top and at the bottom – Getting senior leaders on board is an important element, but BCG show it’s the last of the big four elements that contribute to profitable sustainability strategy. The 99% of colleagues who don’t sit round the board table are too often overlooked. Get enough of this group on side and strategic thinking can be translated into delivery more effectively.
- Keep it simple – Most sustainability professionals love novelty. We also tend to love systems thinking. This combination can lead to complex and frequently changing strategies. This can leave colleagues bewildered and create a big gap between sustainability professionals and everyone else in the business.
- Be in the room – In the hit musical, the politician Alexander Hamilton makes the point that you have to be “in the room where it happens” to have influence and power. If sustainability is seen as an island function in the business then the big opportunities for positive change will be lost. You need to be in the big planning sessions and getting there requires skill.
- Be optimistic – Fear of the impact of climate change can be a powerful motivator but it requires an immediacy lacking in many corporate sustainability risks. You run the risk of moving people to despair rather than action and people quickly stop listening. Great sustainability strategy offers a positive vision of action rooted in the energy of an optimistic common endeavour.
- Be innovative – At its heart sustainability strategy is a call to positive change. If a business is not used to change then a sustainability strategy is likely to struggle as much because it represents change as it does for the content of that change. Being innovative means constantly being creative in advocating positive change that brings business benefits as well as social and environmental impacts.