IS THIS THE BEST SUSTAINABILITY POLICY OF ALL TIME?

This article looks into Interface’s sustainability policy and asks, is this the best sustainability policy of all time?

Ray Anderson

I have talked about Interface on here before, because of their impressive sustainability performance. I mention them again because I was reading an article about Interface’s journey towards sustainability and I was really struck by just how impressive and ambitious their sustainability policy is. You can find a link to the article here.

A lot of this is down to the heroic and farsighted leadership of their founder Ray Anderson, who is pictured above. If you are reading about Ray for the first time, then I would definitely recommend that you watch his insightful Ted Talk, which you can find here.

Clearly Ray planted the seed of desire to achieve sustainability pretty deeply at his company, because even after his death in 2011, Interface has continued to achieve astonishing results in reducing its environmental impact.

Let’s look at the 7 fronts that Interface have put together that form the core of their sustainability policy.

Interface 7 fronts

These cover everything from energy, water, waste, eco-efficiency and reinventing business models. That’s just the topic areas, the goals that come with these are equally impressive. In order to make sustainability a reality, this is the kind of ambition that is required.

In a way it is sad that it is only Interface and a handful of other companies that show this level of ambition. Because we need far more businesses to show this level of commitment for sustainability to be effective.

I have said this before about the power of setting stretch targets. They force organisations to examine critically every aspect of their operations. They inspire their employees and they are an indispensable part of any corporation’s journey towards sustainability. For more information on stretch targets and sustainability, watch this video by Steve Howard from IKEA.

Let’s looks at Interface’s performance against their stretch targets.

Mission Zero Metrics

As we can see, the performance that Interface has achieved is remarkable.

But what is it that has allowed this company to achieve such extraordinary success on corporate sustainability? To answer this, I think it is instructive to look at a quotation from the Chairman Daniel T. Hendrix. You can find this below.

For a company to be as alert to new strategies as Interface is, being constantly on the lookout for such strategies has to be embedded in the company’s culture so thoroughly that it transforms the way everybody in the company sees the world and how their work connects to it. Through actively engaging with uncertainty, alertness and active learning, this foundational culture of discovery has created the conditions for many successful strategic actions to be taken.

For me, this really hits the nail on the head. It has to be about a culture change within the organisation. If sustainability becomes too siloed, to stuck with subject matter experts and always “somebody else’s problem” you will never achieve results.

Interface managed to package all of the necessary elements of corporate sustainability together and combined that with astute leadership to become the company that they are today.

What you need to know

This article looked into Interface’s sustainability policy and asked, is this the best sustainability policy of all time?

We looked at the 7 fronts that Interface identified for their sustainability policy. These covered a wide range of areas and included targets that when achieved would radically transform the business.

We looked into the performance of Interface against the sustainability metrics of their Mission Zero project.

We also looked into how it was only by way of an organisational culture change that Interface was able to achieve such remarkable results on sustainability.

To answer the question in the title of this article, for me, yes Interface has the best sustainability policy of all time. But I am hopeful that other companies will work hard to come up with more ambitious sustainability policies and more aggressive sustainability strategies in the future.

Thank you for reading,

By Barnaby Nash

Please share your thoughts in the comments section below or reach out to me on social media. What company do you think has the best sustainability policy of all time?

Let’s stay connected

I can be reached on LinkedIn and on Twitter @FollowBarnaby

HOW TO INSTITUTIONALISE SUSTAINABILITY

This article focusses on how organisations can institutionalise sustainability. Failing to do this is a key reason why organisations fail to fulfil their potential and become less sustainable than they could be.

mt-fuji-japan-top-ports

When individuals fail to fulfil their potential, this is a tragedy. When organisations fail to achieve all that they possibly can, this is also a tragedy.

Sustainability is not so unique, although it does require change on a scale that may appear radical to those not familiar with the subject matter. Like any business idea or philosophy, it has to be embedded within the company to have a real impact and to have any chance of long term success.

It is for this reason that bolt-on sustainability strategies fail to achieve the level of transformation that is needed. Sustainability needs to be institutionalised within any organisation for it to be considered as a sustainability leader.

A Cambridge dictionary definition of institutionalise is:

to make something become part of a particular society, system, or organization”

I think it is a great word and it perfectly captures what needs to happen.

The climb up mount sustainability is long and winding. There are many challenges that need to be overcome, many processes that need to be reorganised or eliminated and a culture of sustainability needs to fostered and then embedded.

As tough as these challenges sound, with the right governance in place and board level buy in, all organisations can become more sustainable and some can become sustainability leaders.

Let’s look at the key ways you can institutionalise sustainability in your organisation.

1. Vision

All companies have vision statements. Many of these sound the same and are ridden with clichés and business buzzwords.

The hallmark of a sustainability leader is the successful integration of sustainability into their vision statement. Once you have done this sustainability becomes a focal point in the organisation and everyone can be clear that it is a top priority.

Obviously talk is cheap and this vision needs to be met with bold actions if the organisation is to become more sustainable socially and environmentally.

A good organisation in this regard is ARM, who I have mentioned before because I really like them.

They integrate aspects of sustainability into their vision statement, without dampening their commitment to business expansion.

“To create a world where all electronic products and services, based upon energy efficient technology from ARM, make life better for everyone”

Overall, having a mission statement that includes sustainability is a great way to institutionalise sustainability in any organisation.

2. Strategy

Aligning your strategy with sustainability is another key way to institutionalise sustainability.

This avoids the problem that many companies experience, whereby they have a primary business strategy and a bolt-on sustainability strategy. This leads to chronic underperformance in sustainability and a failure to capitalise on the opportunities which sustainability presents.

A great company who has aligned their business strategy and their sustainability strategy is Xerox. By redefining their role in the marketplace from seller of printing and copying machines to provider of printing and copying services, they have been able to perform strongly on sustainability and rewrite the rules of their market.

By retaining responsibility for the the equipment’s disposal, they can recycle and remanufacture old machines into new ones and customers don’t have to invest heavily in a machine only for it to be superseded by a superior model. Everyone wins.

Overall, to institutionalise sustainability it is important that it is integrated into the business strategy and not bolted on as an afterthought.

3. Rewards

Aligning an organisations rewards system can go a long way to institutionalising sustainability.

There is a lot of focus on rewards. This is predominantly concentrated on cash bonuses delivered to executives as a reward for performance. I have always been sceptical as to how much of a link there is between these two phenomena.

People do like money and people do perform for money. But to sustain peak performance over a long period of time, you have to inspire people.

I came across this great quotation from Robert B Shapiro, a former CEO of Monsanto.

People in large numbers won’t give their all for protracted periods of time – with a cost in their overall lives – for an abstraction called a corporation or an idea called profit. People can only give to people

People need to be rewarded by being allowed to engage in meaningful and interesting work. You trusted these people enough to hire them; you need to trust them to solve problems related to sustainability.

A great example in this regard is 3M. They introduced their pioneering pollution prevention pays (3P) program in 1975. This has been an incredibly successful corporate transformation programme, which is still in use today.

The initiative is made up of thousands of employee generated and employee owned projects that reduce pollution and save the business money.

The programme continues to be a success for this global company because it was successfully integrated into the businesses processes and corporate culture.

Overall, to institutionalise sustainability it is important to align rewards systems with more than just money. Passion and purpose can serve as valuable incentives.

4. Human Resources

It goes without saying that if you are hiring in house sustainability experts that they need to have a vision aligned with the principles of sustainable development.

But what about for other hires?

How often do you introduce sustainability principles into your interview questions?

How often does having an interest sustainability win out in a tie breaker between two equally talented prospective candidates?

Overall, if you never hire for sustainability, you can never become a sustainability leader. By introducing sustainability principles into your HR processes, you can make a big difference in institutionalising sustainability.

What you need to know

This article looked into how organisations can institutionalise sustainability.

An organisation that has institutionalised sustainability has fully integrated the principles of sustainable development and made it a part of its fabric.

We looked into some ways in which businesses can do this.

It can be achieved by integrating sustainability into the company’s vision. It can be achieved by incorporating sustainability into the company’s primary strategy. It can be achieved by aligning rewards systems and HR systems with sustainability principles.

Individually these are powerful methods for institutionalising sustainability, but if used in combination, they are even more powerful.

Thank you for reading,

By Barnaby Nash

Please share your thoughts in the comments section below. What do you believe is the best way to institutionalise sustainability within an organisation?

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I can be reached on LinkedIn and on Twitter @FollowBarnaby

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WHAT MAKES A SUSTAINABILITY REPORT A GREAT SUSTAINABILITY REPORT

This article looks into what makes a sustainability report a great sustainability report. What makes a report memorable, what makes it stand out from the crowd?

WritingTipsHDR

These days, sustainability reporting has become a mainstream activity.

gold

As you can see from the chart above, once you reach the stage where 82% of companies in the S&P 500 are reporting on their sustainability performance, you definitely have a mainstream activity.

There are lots of sustainability reports published every year. Many are dull and uninspiring. Others are difficult to read and full of technical jargon, indecipherable to all but the most committed experts.

In this article, I will go through what I consider to be the key ingredients that separate a run of the mill sustainability report from a great sustainability report.

1.  Vision

Great sustainability reports exude vision. They communicate to their stakeholders that they aim to dominate their industry, but do so in a way that takes less from the earth socially and environmentally.

Visions are powerful things. For more information on sustainability visions, please visit the link below.

HOW TO CREATE A GREAT SUSTAINABILITY VISION

One of the best sustainability reports that I have come across for vision, would be ARM’s 2015 report. You can find a link for this below.

Sustainability in a connected world

The report begins with their bold vision that:

Our mission is to deploy ARM-based technology, wherever computing happens.”

This is the sort of bold vision that employees, investors and other stakeholders can rally around.

Later they boast of their 488 engineers working on “blue sky” programmes. This is exactly the kind of progress that is needed to make sustainability happen.

ARM’s integration of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG’s) into their report is also first rate. What is more impressive though, is their ability and ambition to contribute in some small way to all 17 of these exponential goals.

I understand not all businesses can be like ARM. But I have seen a trend towards businesses giving up before they have even begun and declaring that only a small number are relevant to their business. They are all relevant.

Visions are powerful things. Peter Senge said it best in The Fifth Discipline that:

It’s not what the vision is, it’s what the vision does.

So many bland visions fail to inspire anyone and probably didn’t even inspire the person who wrote them. ARM hit the sweet spot with their 2015 report, managing to blend crushing business acumen with care for society and the environment.

The key takeaway is that if you want your sustainability report to be great  and stand out, create an authentic, inspiring vision and run with it. You’ll know when you get there.

2.  Stories

Alongside visions, stories are powerful phenomena. They can make the big and complex small and easy to understand. This is certainly helpful in sustainability.

The ability to tell a story or stories can transform your sustainability report from being good to being great. It can make investors think differently about your business, it can make your current employees want to stay or prospective candidates want to join your business. It can make your sustainability report stand out.

Stories are the bridge that connects your sustainability data into real and meaningful information that is useful and memorable to the reader. There is so much information out there, there are so many reports. If you tell a story or series of stories in your report, there is a good chance that that is what the reader will remember.

In this regard, one of the best sustainability reports that I have seen integrate powerful stories was Carillion’s 2016 sustainability report. You can find a link to this below.

How we’re making tomorrow a better place

Carillion integrate inspiring stories about the people who actually deliver their international operations throughout the report.

There are stories about health and safety achievements in the UK, decent living and working conditions in the Middle East, customer service excellence in the UK, training and work placements in Liverpool and stories about wind and hydro power in Canada.

The report takes you on a real journey. Unlike other reports it comes across as very bottom up and participatory and not top down and hierarchical. It comes across as authentic. The stories take you on a journey, they are touching and they are memorable.

The key takeaway if you want to create a great sustainability report is to tell powerful stories. Tell one or tell many. Make it inspirational and make the report seem like the work of the entire company and not just the sustainability team and the board.

3.   Move people

Great sustainability reports move people. They are more than the sum of their parts. If a report is great it will be read by more people than you think.

Words are powerful. When used in the right order they can inspire people and make sustainability irresistible. You never know who might be reading your report.

Maybe someone from within or outside your business has become complacent about sustainability. You can touch them; you can move them from complacency.

There may be others who are just drifting and not yet fully on board and engaged in the sustainability process. You can move them.

There may be readers who are taken a back by one of your stories. They could be a millionaire or someone of modest means. But you can move them with your stories.

Maybe you did something remarkable last year. Just by writing down what happened, you can move people.

Maybe your business had a dilemma; maybe you were bold enough to communicate about your failures as well as your successes. You can touch people with your honesty.

Maybe you have a wicked problem, which you are not sure you can solve. A reader could be touched by your problem. They could reach out to you. Stranger things have happened.

This happened to me this year whilst I was reading the Canary Wharf Group 2016 sustainability report. You can find a link to this below.

EVOLUTION 2016 SUSTAINABILITY REPORT

It is a fantastic report. I was moved by their vision for sustainability in the built environment, I was touched by their focus on wellbeing and climate change adaptation and I was inspired by their action on waste minimisation and recycling. Just by writing things down you can move people, you can change who people are.

The key takeaway if you want to create a great sustainability report is that you need to move people. The stakes are so high and the competition is so intense, that if you don’t move people, your report will not stand out.

What you need to know

This article looked into what makes a sustainability report a great sustainability report. We looked into what makes a report stand out from the crowd. The key areas that I identified are as follows:

1.  Vision

2.   Stories

3.   Move people

A bold vision will inspire your employees and hook readers in.

Stories used throughout your report will give context to your report and make it memorable.

When creating your report you should aim to move people. Don’t aim to be good, aim to be remarkable. Great sustainability reports move people. They change how the reader thinks about things. By changing how people think, your report can have an exponential impact.

Thank you for reading,

By Barnaby Nash

Please share your thoughts in the comments section below. What do you think makes a sustainability report great? It’s good to hear other people’s thoughts and opinions.

Let’s stay connected

I can be reached on LinkedIn and on Twitter @FollowBarnaby

 

HOW TO CREATE A GREAT SUSTAINABILITY VISION

This article investigates the key ingredients of a great sustainability vision.

sunrise

Visions can be powerful things. They can inspire people, organisations, countries and even continents.  The type of vision that I will talk about here is distinct from a corporate vision statement. These can often be shallow regurgitations of corporate-speak, rarely seen or heard outside of business pamphlets and landing pages.

The type of vision I seek to explore is the type of vision that has the possibility of changing society, the environment and in the process change the world.

Some of the best writing I have come across on the power of visions is by Peter Senge in The Fifth Discipline. His quotation below makes clear the distinction between a great vision and a vision statement.

When there is a genuine vision (as opposed to the all-too-familiar “vision statement”), people excel and learn, not because they are told to, but because they want to.

For those without time to read The Fifth Discipline Rana Lahiri has helpfully picked out some of the best quotations from the book and put them in one place. You can find this via the link below. I would still recommend reading the original text as it contains some powerful insights.

Some of the Fifth Discipline Quotes ― Peter M. Senge, The Fifth Discipline

Let’s now turn to the key ingredients of a great sustainability vision.

1.     Energy

A commitment to sustainable energy should be a core component of any sustainability vision.

I don’t think that this should be referenced in terms of “cutting our carbon footprint by X by X date.” I think we can afford to be a bit more ambitious than that.

In terms of the energy used on fixed sites, this should be referenced in terms of procuring 100% of the energy used from renewable sources by X date. A couple of years ago, this would have been a quantum leap, but now is the time to start making ambitious goals like this a reality.

It is interesting how fossil fuels are often portrayed as needed because of energy independence issues. When renewable energy offers these same independence benefits, in a distributed manner and creates sustainable jobs and industries in the process. A better world is possible and action taken on energy procurement is needed to make it a reality.

In terms of energy used on mobile sites, there should be a commitment to having all transport take place on electric vehicles by X date. This might sound extraordinarily ambitious, but it actually isn’t. Recent developments within the electric vehicle market have begun to snowball and the transition could happen quicker than you think.

The key is to look for joined up thinking as by supporting renewable energy production, this has a spin off benefit that the electricity used to power vehicles will be more sustainable too.

The key takeaway is that nothing less than a commitment to 100% renewable energy and 100% electric vehicles is needed for a great sustainability vision.

2.   Water

Water is a key component of the sustainability equation and so should be central to any sustainability vision.

If you operate in the food and drink industry then water will be front and centre in your sustainability vision. However if you operate in other industries it will still be very important.

The key is to look for ways of reconstituting your operations. Water that doesn’t need to be used doesn’t need to be extracted.

This could take the form of highly efficient irrigation techniques & construction techniques that are less water intensive. There is also significant scope to look for techniques that maximise reuse of the same water many times.

For service sector businesses, there is certainly the opportunity to invest in waterless sanitation infrastructure. This is the sort of technology which offers the possibility for exponential cuts in water use, admittedly from a low amount.

There is more leverage available to service sector businesses if they link their vision to the UN Sustainable Development Goals. These are ambitious targets covering all aspects of sustainability. Goal 6 to “Ensure availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all” is particularly relevant. By attaching your business to achieving this and other goals, you can have an enormous impact. This can be done via partner organisations and charities and those relationships can be enormously valuable.

The key takeaway is that water, being a critical component of the sustainability equation needs to be included in any sustainability vision. To make a vision great, it must include radical goals for reducing the use of water and reusing it where possible.

3.   Waste

A bold commitment on waste needs to be included to make a sustainability vision great.

This comes in two parts. It should include following the waste hierarchy to prevent the creation of waste altogether. It would therefore make sense to make becoming zero waste an organisational priority by X date. Although it may sound fantastical to some readers, with the right mind-set and a determination to eliminate and segregate wherever necessary, it is definitely possible.

The second part covers recycling. There should be a commitment to recycling every Kg of material possible. In the beginning as an intermediate target that would look like an 85% recycling target. But as you work towards becoming zero waste, the flip side of that is that you would become a 100% recycling business.

Achieving both of these targets involves a lot of work with suppliers and changing suppliers when they are not sufficiently interested in sustainability. Preference should be shown towards suppliers who supply goods with a high recycled content, who design for disassembly or who incorporate some form of reverse logistics into their business model.

The key takeaway is that ambitious targets around zero waste and 100% recycling are the cornerstone of any great sustainability vision. They are things that people can see and understand intuitively. But they will not happen unless there are ambitious targets, employees are galvanised and waste is removed from processes by design.

4.   A commitment to being good

A commitment to being good is an essential ingredient to making any sustainability vision great. At first this might sound obvious, but this is not the case.

Many sustainability vison’s make the mistake of aiming to be “less bad.” This is certainly better than doing nothing at all. But the real prize is to use sustainability to be a good business.

A good business does all of the things we have mentioned to ensure they have a very low or no environmental impact. They also seek to operate in a responsible manner so that their actions do not take from society.

But good businesses go further than this and seek to actively make the world a better place. They engage themselves directly in building a better world and enlist their customers in this process.

Seeing as a video is worth a million words, I encourage readers to watch the We First video on exactly this topic by clicking the link below.

The We First Manifesto 2017

The key takeaway is that being less bad is not enough to make a sustainability vision great, it must contain an explicit commitment to being a good business.

What you need to know

This article investigated the key ingredients of a great sustainability vision. The key elements of a great sustainability vision are bold action on the following areas.

1.     Energy

2.    Water

3.    Waste

4.    A commitment to being good

Visions need to be bold and ambitious if they are to inspire employees, attract customers and gain traction within the media.

The biggest crime that many visions commit is to lack ambition and to aim too low. These visions don’t affect any change and they pass like a ship in the night.

In summary, the most important element of a great sustainability vison is commitments to bold and far reaching action. These commitments then need to be followed up with hard work and bold action.

I will leave you with a cryptic message from Peter Senge that will hopefully inspire readers to create their own great sustainability vision.

It’s not what the vision is, it’s what the vision does.

Thank you for reading,

By Barnaby Nash

Please share your thoughts in the comments section below. It’s great to hear about other people’s experiences in taking sustainability forward.

Let’s stay connected

I can be reached on LinkedIn and on Twitter @FollowBarnaby 

 

 

HOW TO BECOME A SUSTAINABILITY LEADER

This article investigates the steps businesses need to take to become a recognised sustainability leader. This could be within their own field, or it could be as a cross industry sustainability champion.

Beech trees during springtime

Just as it is not easy to become the recognised leader for having the lowest costs or highest quality, neither is it an easy process to become a sustainability leader. It requires ambition, commitment and dedication.

But sustainability is the most important transformation happening in business right now. Fortunately many farsighted businesses have realised the benefits that an organisational focus on sustainability can bring. These leaders prove what is possible.

Let’s now turn to the steps businesses need to follow to become a sustainability leader.

1.     Be honest

Being honest about your environmental performance is the first step to becoming a sustainability leader.

The 20th Century was dominated by businesses chasing success through ultra high levels of secrecy. Industrial espionage was rampant and companies dared not share information about their environmental performance for fear of losing a competitive advantage to their rivals.

However in the 21st Century it will be the businesses that disclose the most and the businesses that demonstrate the most responsibility that will be the most successful.

With respect to annual sustainability reporting, it is obviously important to disclose everything good that your business has been working on that year. But sustainability leaders go further, disclosing in detail what hasn’t worked that year and why.

But sustainability leaders go further than just reporting on their sustainability performance using standard metrics on an annual basis.

Take PUMA for example, which was the world’s first major company to put a value on its environmental impact.

I am minded to quote Peter Drucker, whose belief that “What gets measured gets improved” is certainly still true today.

PUMA’s first environmental profit and loss account revealed that their direct ecological impact equated to £6.2m and £74.7m was created by its supply chain.

This was a ground-breaking report and it should encourage other businesses to follow suit if they wish to become sustainability leaders.

To find out more, please visit the link below.

PUMA Environmental Profit and Loss Account

2.     Become a circular business

Circular economy business models are an excellent way to demonstrate leadership in sustainability.

Whilst they are challenging to execute, with the right mind-set and a determination to succeed and breakthrough, they can be achieved.

It could be argued that it is easier to design a circular business from scratch than it is to introduce circular thinking into an existing business. If they are being introduced to an existing business, it will require a commitment to a new paradigm, rather than incremental improvement to an existing business model.

An excellent recent example is AO the online electricals retailer, who will become the UK’s largest fridge recycler, after merging with The Recycling Group (TRG).

Retailer set to become the UK’s largest fridge recycler

This is exactly the sort of ambitious move that defines sustainability leaders from the rest. Sustainability leaders know that consumers are becoming increasingly conscious of what happens to their products once they are no longer useful to them. They use circular thinking to address customer needs from cradle to cradle.

3.     How you sell is as important as what you sell

Sustainability leaders see their business as a system. They realise that how they sell their products and services is as important as what they sell.

The first step on the sustainability ladder is to develop products and services with greater environmental performance. However, to become a sustainability leader, a greater number of areas must be addressed.

This should also be seen as risk reduction activity. Whether it is the normally whiter than white Glastonbury being caught up in a labour sting:

Glastonbury Festival accused of exploiting hundreds of European workers on zero hours contracts

Or the under fire Starbucks being accused of wasting water:

Starbucks ‘wastes 23 million litres of water each day’

Sustainability leaders would have addressed these issues before they became problems. They find ways of operating that take less from the earth socially and environmentally.

4.     Exploit opportunities

Sustainability leaders exploit opportunities to outcompete and stay ahead of their rivals.

They are not concerned with what the crowd are doing. These sustainability leaders use sustainability to win business, to enshrine loyalty and to lead conversations.

This could be done as part of a rebuilding project, or as a final step towards the summit of mount sustainability. Whatever path they take, sustainability leaders always exploit opportunities.

An excellent example in this regard would be Lego. Their determination to produce products from sustainable materials as well as addressing other environmental aspects has left them in a position of dominance within their industry on sustainability.

How Lego Rebuilt Itself As A Purposeful And Sustainable Brand

Sustainability leaders know that where they find business and environmental interests in alignment, that they should pursue and exploit that opportunity.

5.     Create a movement

Sustainability leaders don’t just seek to create a profitable and sustainable businesses. They seek to lead a movement.

By leading a movement they change their own business, but they also change their industry and society in the process.

They seek to create raving fans, who evangelise about their business at every opportunity. Because of this, they can afford to have minimal and in some cases non-existent marketing and advertising budgets.

Take Tesla for example. Look at the electric car market before and after their entry. They have undoubtedly created and are leading a movement.

tesla.png

What you need to know

This article investigated the steps businesses need to take to become a recognised sustainability leader.

Becoming known as a sustainability leader within one field or as a cross industry sustainability champion is not easy. But by addressing and excelling in the following areas, businesses can make progress towards sustainability leadership. They are:

1.     Be honest

2.    Become a circular business

3.    How you sell is as important as what you sell

4.    Exploit opportunities

5.    Create a movement

The examples shown throughout prove what is possible. Sustainability leadership, although challenging to achieve, is ultimately rewarding.

Thank you for reading,

By Barnaby Nash

Please share your thoughts in the comments section below. It’s great to hear about other people’s experiences in taking sustainability forward.

Let’s stay connected

I can be reached on LinkedIn and on Twitter @FollowBarnaby

 

 

How To Overcome Barriers To Sustainability?

This article covers three barriers to sustainability and how to overcome them.

businessmanhurdle-2015-Nov30

The barriers to sustainability are:

1.      Institution inertia

2.     Capital expenditure

3.     Perfect timing

These form common barriers to sustainability and are encountered by businesses across sectors and locations.

Choices are personal and value is highly subjective. The organisations who fail to overcome these barriers make a choice to see them as insurmountable. They don’t value sustainability, but this has more to do with the way they approach it.

The businesses that are succeeding on sustainability do so because they view overcoming these barriers as crucial to business success. They look for the opportunities that sustainability offers. Such as opportunities to engage their employees, connect with outside audiences and financial benefits.

They view corporate sustainability as being about more than just being less bad. That sort of message will never inspire mass audiences. When corporate sustainability becomes focussed on opportunity maximisation and building a better world it becomes inspirational and people rally around their cause.

Let’s turn to how to overcome these barriers to sustainability.

1.     Institution inertia

Institutional inertia is a common barrier to sustainability. It is defined as:

An organization will remain at rest or if already moving it will continue on the same path unless acted upon by another force. The larger the organization, the more force required.

A number of factors combine to make organisations rigid and resistant to change. These include factors such as excessively hierarchical structures, office politics and a culture that doesn’t celebrate experimentation and innovation.

However an excellent quotation by Rear Admiral Grace Hopper shreds the idea that the way an organisation is currently constituted is likely to be the best possible way. She recounts:

The most dangerous phrase in the language is, ‘We’ve always done it this way.’

Grace Hopper is correct. Particularly with regards to sustainability, where many businesses are on a journey towards this goal, but with few businesses having achieved this status, things have to change.

If institutional inertia is the problem, the question is what is the solution?

The key is to provide employees with information. This is critical. Information is needed both of the nature of the problem and what individuals’ roles are in solving them.

Information

The first part can be achieved through posters and internal reporting. Often if people are aware that certain behaviours have an excessively negative impact, they change their behaviour. But to do that, they need information in a clear and easy to understand format.

A great set of examples that I consult frequently is in the blog below:

http://jayce-o.blogspot.com/2013/10/recycling-posters-creative-examples-recycling-posters.html

Individual incentives

To really effect change on the scale that is needed, action is required to relate sustainability changes to individual actions.

An area that is emerging and that has the potential to transform sustainability at an organisational level is the linking of sustainability performance indicators to individual incentives.

This can be done by awarding prizes and benefits for departments or buildings that are performing strongly on sustainability. People are competitive. Particularly in highly charged business environments, people have a tendency to be highly competitive.

By linking sustainability to individual incentives, people have a reason to become engaged. This strategy offers leverage and the potential to accelerate sustainable change within organisations.

2.   Capital expenditure

Many businesses view capital expenditure as a barrier to sustainability.

Businesses that view capital expenditure as a barrier are looking at the sustainability equation the wrong way. Businesses that succeed in sustainability will be aware that success in this arena is a major point of competition between companies.

Increasingly customers and other stakeholders expect companies to be excelling in sustainability. By ignoring this area companies stand to lose out.

Sustainable solutions are often cheaper when lifecycle costs of use, maintenance and disposal are accounted for. Sustainable solutions are almost always cheaper when externalities are taken into consideration. Responsible businesses consider the externalities of their operations when investing.

Capital expenditure may also be necessary to keep hold of existing customers or to attract new environmentally aware consumers. This shouldn’t be seen as a cost at all, rather a necessity to compete in business in the 21st century.

3.   Perfect timing

Attempting to achieve perfect timing is another common barrier to sustainability within businesses.

Achieving perfect timing for sustainability is an impossible challenge. Sustainability is a fast moving area and technology continues to develop at a rapid pace.

The real question is do you want to be a responsible business? If the answer is yes, then the best time to start investing in sustainability and developing a sustainability strategy is now.

Your business will not develop a recognised position on sustainability overnight. Green consumers won’t evangelise about your brand immediately. Real and meaningful change takes time.

When thinking about sustainability, I like to think about the Henry Ford quotation:

A business that makes nothing but money is a poor business.

What does your company or brand represent? What does it mean to work for your businesses? Sustainability is integral to these questions and more.

Sustainability is about building a better world. Many businesses and consumers are actively looking to shop and invest with sustainable businesses. If your businesses sustainability credentials aren’t up to shape, they will go elsewhere. The best time to start your sustainability journey is now.

What you need to know

This article looked at three barriers to sustainability and how businesses can overcome them.

The barriers to sustainability are:

1.      Institution inertia

2.     Capital expenditure

3.     Perfect timing

Institutional inertia can be overcome by delivering clear information to your employees and by aligning individual incentives with sustainability performance indicators. That should help to create a culture that celebrates sustainability and change.

Capital expenditure should never have become a barrier to sustainability. Nevertheless, it can be overcome by reframing sustainability from something which is nice to have, to something which is essential to business success.

Achieving perfect timing for sustainability is an impossible challenge. It should therefore not act as a barrier to action on sustainability. To attract environmentally aware customers and candidates to your business, your approach has to be authentic. That takes time. Therefore the best time to start bold action on sustainability is now.

With the right mind set, barriers to sustainability can be overcome. The trick is to focus on the opportunities that sustainability can deliver. This is an exciting time in the history of sustainability. What could be more exciting than being part of a movement to build a better world?

Thank you for reading,

By Barnaby Nash

Please share your thoughts in the comments section below. It’s great to hear about other people’s experiences in taking sustainability forward.

How To Build A Great Sustainability Policy

This article sets out six steps to follow if companies want to build a great sustainability policy.

sustainability-venn-diagram

The objective of creating a sustainability policy is to provide guidance for the decisions taken by senior executives and managers going forward.

It should not be confined to the sustainability department or persons concerned with sustainability. It should represent the organisation as a whole and its aims and aspirations for the future.

Many sustainability communications are dull and uninspiring. By following these steps, you will be able to build a great sustainability policy that engages your employees and connects with outside audiences.

1.     Spell out values

Spelling out values is a crucial first step to creating a great sustainability policy.

Sustainability is at its best when it is on the territory of values. Many economists and those hostile to sustainability appear to know the price of everything but the value of nothing.

This is where a sustainability policy is helpful. It communicates to your stakeholders that you are committed to long-term profitability as well as operating in a responsible manner.

Focus on what your business does that’s remarkable. Every business does something that’s remarkable. Then try and build your policy values around that. That is the best way to create an exciting and believable sustainability policy.

2.   Establish procedures

Establishing procedures is a crucial second step to creating a great sustainability policy.

Establishing who is responsible for executing on the sustainability policy is important.

Is it the board, if so whom is ultimately responsible within the board. Will it be senior management the head of CSR, CSO or the CEO? These are all possibilities, but putting a name, preferably someone who evangelises about sustainability and has leverage within the organisation in charge will make a big difference.

3.   Set a revision timetable

Setting a revision timetable is a crucial third step to creating a great sustainability policy.

This might seem like a strange area to prioritise at the half way stage, but I will explain. Sustainability is a fast moving area. New developments, new technologies and new problems mean that no policy is time proof or could last forever.

Setting out a revision timetable of every three years, every five years or every decade will mean that your business schedules in time to refresh and update its sustainability policy going forward.

Room should also be made for how feedback from outside and inside the organisation can be incorporated into the policy. The best ideas often come from the most unexpected places. Make sure people are aware that their feedback and ideas are not just welcome, but expected. That way they are more likely to come forward.

4.   Set a communication strategy

Setting a communications strategy is a crucial fourth step to creating a great sustainability policy.

In many ways, communication is the missing link in sustainability. If your business has taken the time to create a fantastic sustainability policy, then you should communicate this to as many people as possible.

Achieving sustainability is a massive challenge. It is only with the cooperation of everyone that change on the scale that is needed can be achieved.  By communicating your sustainability policy widely, to customers, partners and the media, you can play a role in engaging mass audiences in support of sustainability.

5.    Plan for the long-term

Planning for the long-term is a crucial fifth step to creating a great sustainability policy.

The policy should be substantial enough to effect real change, but not put off so far into the future that individuals can find reasons not to comply. I have a preference for 10 year glide paths towards sustainable outcomes, with 5% year on year improvements.

In 10 years, strategies like the one outlined above can cut an organizations carbon footprint by 50% in that time. After only 1 year it would seem like not much has changed. But sustainability is a long distance journey and the evidence is growing that it is one worth taking.

6.   Set goals and targets

Setting goals and targets is a crucial last step to creating a great sustainability policy.

Specific objectives need to be developed for the entire company as well as targets for specific units within that organisation. Managers can then use these targets within their individual business units on a day to day basis.

These goals and targets should be ambitious and audited at regular intervals to ensure that they are fulfilled.

What you need to know

This article proposed six steps that companies should follow to build a great sustainability policy. They are:

1.     Spell out values

2.    Establish procedures

3.    Set a revision timetable

4.    Set a communication strategy

5.    Plan for the long-term

6.    Set goals and targets

These steps, if executed on will help a business develop a recognised position on sustainability.

We will learn more about sustainability in subsequent posts.

Thank you for reading

By Barnaby Nash

Contact Details

Mobile: 07745 904 128

Email: barnaby.nash@gmail.com

Blog: barnabythinks.wordpress.com