Corporate Sustainability: Obstacle or Opportunity?
First off, what is sustainability? Meeting the needs of the present generation without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their needs, as defined by the Brundtland Commission.
Secondly, is sustainability a part of your business? Corporate executives and boards around the world are being asked this very question. The focus and pressure is greater now than ever before, and that trend is continuing.
Public awareness and concern about sustainability is increasing year by year.
Stakeholders are asking for corporate sustainability disclosure and action.
New regulations are being enacted.
Monetization of environmental assets (e.g., price on carbon) is accelerating under this new regulatory environment.
Shareholders are recognizing the material financial risk of not considering sustainability.
Through it all is your own personal concern about sustainability and creating a legacy of good in the world.
Before we dive into charting your own sustainability path, there are two crucial errors to avoid in your planning that can drain finances, time and moral.
Sustainability as an add-on: Sustainability must be integrated in order to be attained. If sustainability is treated as an add-on and is given to a single employee or department as a siloed task, then expect less than desirable outcomes. True sustainability requires a holistic and integrated approach—a collaboration that considers and engages all links of the value chain, weaves sustainability through each facet of the business, and generates value.
An aim for minimum requirements: Sustainability regulations are tightening, and mainstream demands are increasing. Regulations and other external standards can be viewed as a hurdle to clear, generally by doing the minimum necessary to satisfy regulations and appease the current public standard. That may work…but only for a while. This reactive approach and short-sighted cycle, including the implications of your effort, time and money, will leave you constantly working to catch up rather than leading from ahead.
"If some companies and investors fail to adjust to this new world, they will fail to exist.”
— Mark Carney, Bank of England Governor, 2019
The path of opportunity
In 2021 it’s clear that corporate sustainability is a necessity for a healthy planet, healthy humanity and healthy economy. What may not be as clear, is that corporate sustainability can also enhance the value of your organization.
Given that long-term view, it benefits every business to understand not just where public perception and regulations are but where they are heading. Then you can begin to generate opportunity and new revenue lines in that direction. The more quickly you do this, the less it will cost you and the more value you can generate.
Sustainability is not an isolated problem to patch, a box to check or a set of regulations to meet and be done. Approaching sustainability from those mindsets is a certain bet for extended burden on both economic and environmental resources.
Take instead the approach to sustainability as an opportunity to generate new growth; what you’ll find is a way forward that drives real value for your business model, your customers, your employees, your shareholders and life on Earth. This is what we call your Sustainability Value Journey.
5 stages to chart your Sustainability Value Journey
1. Know the landscape. Before you can outline a course of action you must know the landscape you’re operating in, understanding the current context of sustainability and how it applies to your business. At a minimum, clarify the answers to these questions:
Why are you being asked about sustainability?
What regulations apply?
What are you currently doing?
What are others in this sector doing?
2. Interpret opportunity. Rather than a landscape of barriers to sustainability, as expert guides we know how to interpret which landmarks are actually full of potential. In this stage, re-evaluate perceived obstacles to identify:
Potential for growth
Integrated approaches rather than siloed
Innovative paths that generate enthusiasm and value
3. Identify your starting point with a benchmarking exercise. To accurately plot your current position in the sustainability landscape, you’ll need to define and answer some key questions. The result of this benchmarking is a well-defined picture of your organization’s current environmental footprint, associated liabilities and position among peers.
What are your key operating activities?
To what degree do these activities have negative or positive environmental impacts?
Which are the most material impacts in or on your operations?
What do you currently do to mitigate these impacts?
How do you assess the life cycle of each resource in use?
What sustainability efforts are your competitors and peers making?
4. Develop the strategy. Chart the path. At this stage you’ll forecast your business through a four-part strategy development exercise.
Look at the current material issues.
Mark interim and long-term goals.
Outline a strategic path to attain those goals.
Forecast costs and benefits through a modeling exercise.
The strategic plan that results from this exercise—your Sustainability Value Journey—carefully identifies reduction, management and mitigation at every turn, pinpointing potential risks and liabilities while generating growth at every opportunity within the landscape.
5. Embark on your Sustainability Value Journey. With this map in hand you’ll integrate sustainability throughout your business strategy and operations. Your Sustainability Value Journey will determine how you can manage costs, identify sustainable investments and create additional revenue streams, driving forward real environmental value hand-in-hand with economic growth.
If you are...
Looking for the first time at how sustainability applies to your business model
Taking your first steps, wondering how to map out a more strategic journey
Reviewing where you’ve already been and developing improved sustainability plans for the path forward
Well established in your sustainability efforts, aiming to take a lead and move your sector forward
...let EcoAdvisors be your guide
As specialists in sustainability, we know where you’re coming from and the challenges you’re up against. Sustainability may be new territory for you, but it’s not for us. We have helped many business leaders interpret and implement the value of sustainability and communicate their benefits to stakeholders, shareholders and peers.
Our leadership team includes mentors to businesses, leading voices shaping emerging sustainability regulations, and trusted contributors to the Taskforce on Nature-related Financial Disclosures (TNFD). This keeps us—and you—at the leading edge of the global sustainability movement and informed of where it’s heading.
Our extensive network is yours to tap into. Between our multi-disciplinary team of senior-level experts in environmental strategy, communications, economics and sustainable finance, and our broad network of partners, we can connect you with the expertise you need.
Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org to schedule a call to explore your Sustainability Value Journey.