Three imperatives to rally support for your sustainability strategy
By Stu Wragg, Client Partner at Salterbaxter Australia
Tuesday, 25 October, 2022
Developing a credible sustainability strategy with bold aspirations, clear goals and defined programs is a big achievement for any sustainability leader. The real test of a strategy, however, lies in its ability to deliver progress. Progress that involves big leaps forward to benefit people, the planet and the organisation — not incremental moves of arbitrary milestones year-on-year.
To deliver progress like that, rallying stakeholder support is critical. Critical because so much of what’s outlined in a sustainability strategy is reliant on the actions of others. The actions of consumers to buy sustainably. The actions of employees to embrace new ways of working. The actions of supply-chain partners to adapt how they run.
Influencing behaviour change is critical, and a lot of what’s required to drive change starts with building belief. Belief in the business’s ambitions for transformation. Belief in its plan to adapt. Belief in the progress being made.
Creating a credible and robust sustainability strategy helps build that belief but so too does compelling engagement. On that, clarifying the ambition, unifying commitments and demonstrating progress are good places to start.
1. Clarifying the ambition
The complex and long-term nature of sustainable transformation can make it difficult for organisational leaders to build belief in their ambition for change. Vague plans to deliver against commitments in sustainability strategies don’t help. Particularly on the emissions front, where many leaders have set long-term net zero goals but few have articulated how they’ll achieve them.
Painting a compelling picture of how leaders envisage organisational transformation shaping up can bring ambitions to life. UK retailer Selfridges did this well recently when it launched its first annual ‘Project Earth’ report. The launch saw the retailer offer specifics about its vision to reinvent retail. A key message was its goal for 45% of transactions to come from circular products and services by 2030. The message made its sustainability vision tangible and became the focus of countless media stories.
2. Unifying commitments
The scale and diverse nature of action needed to fuel a sustainable transformation makes it challenging for organisations to communicate a coherent story of change. That’s a problem because businesses need to make it clear how various initiatives interconnect and serve a bigger purpose.
Carrefour’s Act for Food initiative is a good example of a brand that’s created a common thread to engage audiences. The French grocery retailer’s program brought together several global acts to help customers and employees eat better. The initiatives included doubling the number of products in its vegetarian range and guaranteeing fish are responsibly sourced. By uniting a diverse range of concrete acts under a single umbrella, Carrefour found a creative way to rally internal and external stakeholders about its sustainable transformation.
3. Demonstrating progress
With so many sustainability commitments and pledges, stakeholders are rightly cynical about corporate promises. Ensuring what a business does is authentic and meaningful is important, but so too is reporting on outcomes. To build belief in a sustainability strategy, business leaders must prioritise transparent and regular communication about the progress being made, and where there is more to do.
Officeworks did this well in its FY22 sustainability report. In a section titled ‘Our Progress’, the retailer openly communicated the state of progress against its 2025 sustainability commitments. This included acknowledging whether the business is ‘at the beginning’ or ‘on track’ regarding various people and planet actions. In doing so, Officeworks shows it understands sustainable transformation is a constant work-in-progress.
Ensuring sustainability strategies are credible and creative is quite the challenge. Making the complex simple and engaging generally is. Crack that challenge, however, and sustainability leaders will find themselves well placed to help their organisation build the belief, support and progress that’s needed.
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