If you're just setting out on your sustainability journey, it can seem like there are endless things to consider. The truth is that there are many ways to measure and reduce your organization's environmental footprint, and the process of developing a sustainability strategy is complex.
In our work with clients in a variety of industries, countries, and of varying sizes, we have noticed similarities in what works and what doesn't. This post outlines what we have learned.
Without further ado, if you want to have a top-tier, functional sustainability strategy, here are the are seven things you need to do.
1. Understand Your Drivers
Every company has unique reasons for addressing their environmental impacts and developing a sustainability strategy. It's crucial that you understand what these drivers are so you can build your strategy to address them. Some of the most common are employee engagement, investor relations, risk mitigation, and marketing opportunities.
2. Get Leadership Buy-In & Support
Without support from the top levels of your company - the Board, C-Suite, and/or management - you will constantly be running into barriers. It is crucial to find at least one sponsor at the top levels of leadership to help push your sustainability programs through. On top of that, certifications like B Corp and other reporting programs incentivize leadership support for sustainability strategies. A good way to get executive support is by building a strong business case.
Bonus Tip: Find sponsors throughout various regions and departments in the company to breathe life into your strategy and programs.
3. Create A Stakeholder Engagement Plan
Stakeholder engagement is a staple of sustainability. It is the process of mapping and communicating with all individuals and groups affected by or that affect your business. Proper stakeholder engagement ensures you have a dialogue with everyone who may be influenced by or be able to add value to your sustainability strategy. It is often a source of ideas and inspiration, and can help to widen the perspective of your strategy, resulting in a more successful implementation.
4. Develop Measurement Procedures
As the adage goes, "you manage what you measure". It is critical to have reliable, accurate, consistent measures of your core environmental aspects. How do you know whether your carbon emissions or waste generation are being reduced if you can't effectively measure them at regular intervals over time? These procedures should be written for each of your material environmental aspects, regularly audited, and reviewed by management.
5. Set SMART Objectives
Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-bound (SMART) objectives and targets will be the foundation of all environmental programs and initiatives. They should be based on your material environmental aspects and ideally in accordance with relevant legislation and public commitments (for example, the Paris Climate Agreement or the Sustainable Development Goals).
6. Create A Communications Plan
Your communications plan includes how you will report information both internally and externally. It may include a sustainability newsletter or slack channel, quarterly board reports, public sustainability reports, or CDP Disclosures, for example, depending on your drivers, objectives, and desired outcomes.
7. Continually Improve
A fundamental principle of sustainability is that we can always do better. Having a written commitment to continually improving your programs, processes, systems, and other elements of your sustainability strategy will ensure you continue to succeed into the future!
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