“We’re in business to save our home planet.” – Patagonia
“We dared to imagine a business with no environmental impact. It was an ambition people could rally around. It created passion and the innovative thinking needed to get there. And it gave us a clear vision and definition of success. The results speak for themselves.” - Interface Carpets, Lessons for the Future
There have been some impressive sustainability greats pave the way when it comes to business transformation that benefits the planet. I talk to a lot of companies that are passionate about business and sustainability, who really want to create change, but when you dig a little deeper, it’s clear that they don’t have a clear vision and plan for how to get there. The problem is, that this can lead to overwhelm, feelings of never knowing enough information and poor decision-making. To make a vision and mission a reality, you need a plan, with goals and a way to measure success.
In 2020, I worked with Hernest to create an embedded strategy, a plan of where they would focus their sustainability work. We wanted to build a long term approach, rooted in science and that allowed them to make better decisions. We looked at best practice in strategy-making to help guide this process.
Where sustainability started and how it's evolving.
So what does a good sustainability strategy look like? Let’s look at how sustainability strategy has evolved over the last 30 years. It started with the Shareholder View. This view’s predominant belief is that the purpose of the business is to maximise shareholder return where environmental and social
impacts of the business are not considered.
The Stakeholder View later emerged when companies realised that they needed to consider environment and society from a stakeholder perspective, and manage “non- financial risks”. This also became known as the Triple Bottom Line. The problem here is that it often becomes a list of activities rather than truly embedded in the organization. It is not strategic in nature and is often the space where “greenwashing” occurs.
The Systems View, or embedded approach, has now become the leading sustainability strategy-making practice. Companies are seeing the need to take a Systems View of value creation, where their operations are nested in a system that is embedded and bound by the environmental, social and economic systems in which they operate.
Embedded strategies aim to be regenerative
Embedded strategies aim to be regenerative, while considering longer timeframes.
Instead of asking “how much could we reduce our emissions?” and randomly picking a reduction target, an embedded approach asks “how much do we need to reduce our own greenhouse gas emissions, and in what timeframe, to do our part in meeting the long-term goal of keeping the increase in global average temperature to well below 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels?”
Components of a Good Strategy
A good strategy will have three components: a position statement/policy; a
roadmap describing the goal and how the company will get there; and, a scorecard to measure progress.
The position statement should be publicly available, describe sustainability issues and why they are strategically relevant to the company, describe the company’s impact on the issues and set commitments and actions that the company will take.
The roadmap will have both long term and short term goals, with actions moving
the company towards success.
The scorecard will have both progress (ie reduction targets) and process indicators (ie. conducting baseline assessments) to help measure success and where a company is doing well, and where it’s having challenges or not meeting its commitments.
Beyond Direct Operations
Companies are also looking beyond their direct operations. For example, it’s not just about understanding your own emissions, it’s now important to be accountable for emissions from suppliers who are producing products and services for you.
Companies on this journey are looking at impacts throughout their supply chain and where they can leverage their influence to create change.
Hernest committed to their strategy and continues to work towards their goals laid
out in their roadmap. All of the great pioneers in sustainability have strong visions
of success AND a plan to get there. The key take-away is that you don’t have to be a pioneer to do this work. We now know so much about strategy-making that we can apply this to our own organizations. The sooner you get started, the better for your business.