Languish Anguish: Why Good Sustainability Strategies Stall

Published on September 16, 2016

“Our organization is totally supportive of sustainability as long as nothing else comes up or it doesn’t interfere with something the Executive wants to do!”

Hands up if you have heard this before. Many organizations find that after the long process of building and adopting a sustainability policy or strategy, they stall. Sure, implementing and embedding sustainability into the business and day-to-day operational decisions is hard work, but that’s not the only thing holding up changes. Often, the environmental or sustainability plan becomes siloed within the organization, resulting in delays and disorganization. As well, functional leaders don’t always understand the plan’s relevance to their area.

In my experience advising on the design and execution of sustainability strategies for organizations, sustainability managers face these common pitfalls:

  • Sustainability is not defined. As many as 4 or 5 different interpretations and philosophies can exist in the organization.
  • The business case for sustainability is not understood, so leaders are not convinced its merits go beyond a goodwill or nice-to-have measure.
  • It is not operationalized: there is no cross-functional accountability and targets and metrics haven’t been developed.
  • There is a lack of commitment, with few to no incentives and no agreement on priorities. Often sustainability is a last-minute consideration in decision-making – too late to influence the outcome.

It can be challenging for sustainability managers to overcome these familiar hurdles, but not impossible. In fact, there are many opportunities to integrate sustainability in your corporate culture and governance.

This past year I collaborated with Canadian Business for Social Responsibility to develop a set of next generation corporate sustainability practices, called the Qualities of a Transformational Company. The Transformational Company commits to accelerating and scaling sustainability solutions in its business model and society. One of the top – and necessary – qualities is “Sustainability Governance and Culture,” in which sustainability is embedded into governance, business processes, operations, investments, culture and competencies, incentivizing sustainable decisions and innovation.

If you’re looking for key areas to focus on, this visual provides an overview of the crucial internal leverage points needed to embed sustainability into your corporate culture and enable successful delivery of your sustainability strategy:

chart-sept162016

So how can you ensure your sustainability strategy isn’t shelved before it even begins? Better yet, what does leading sustainability embedment look like? If you are keen to learn more, join me and the sustainability directors from Teck and TELUS on October 6th for a webinar on Integrating Sustainability into your Organization: From Plan To Action. Reserve your spot today.

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