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Business Management

Published on March 5th, 2014 | by Special Guest


Features of Good Sustainability Programmes

Jonathan Churchman- Davis, an independent Specialist Adviser for Innovation and Sustainability, delivers another fascinating insight into business sustainability.  In this article he puts forward the argument for organisations to manage sustainability from the top down, and to embed it throughout corporate strategy and systems.

You can read all of Jonathan’s intriguing insights into business sustainability including strategy, profitability, business growth, and setting targets by following this link: Sustainability in business.  

Corporate Sustainability Overview

A good corporate sustainability programme works to ensure that sustainability-related issues are suitably embedded into the strategy and systems of an organisation.  Note the terms “suitably” and “embedded”.  We touched on the importance of suitable (i.e. common-sense) goals and measures in an earlier posting.  Here I’d like to talk more about the concept of embedding sustainability.

When sustainability is “embedded”, it means that the only way to do anything in the organisation is sustainably – or at least as sustainably as suits the company’s commercial goals.  Those sustainability elements that are organically built in to corporate systems will ensure that risks are managed, resource consumption is minimised, wastes are avoided, beneficial social outcomes are supported and improvement is driven forward.  All of these issues are automatically managed using built-in tools and delivering according to planned criteria.

Embedding sustainability avoids duplication and wasted effort.  The clear common-sense and efficiency of the approach helps to build support for the commercial push towards balanced, better outcomes.

Corporate Sustainability in the Real World

In practice, many sustainability programmes are still not embedded but are instead delivered by fragmented initiatives and in response to crises, such as the annual scramble to respond to carbon reporting deadlines.

Corporate sustainability managers struggle to balance short-term tactical delivery with the strategic requirement to engineer systems change over the longer term.  Depending on the availability of resource, immediate targets may be met, but the deep systems change needed for efficiently delivering game-changing benefits will suffer.  A common symptom is that the sustainability team devotes much effort to hand-holding and fire fighting for operations and bid teams.

The Good the Bad and the Ugly

The problem is that it’s not all bad news for the fragmented approach however – it can look quite good in the short term.  Good material will emerge – case studies, headline reductions etc, raising the corporate profile and providing bidding collateral and savings.

However the good news will disguise several serious problems:

  • Improvements will not transform or be persistent.
  • Risks will tend to be managed down rather than eliminated altogether – they will still pop up and bite your reputation.
  • Operational teams will suffer from additional administration burdens, as they cope with one bolt-on system after another.

These three problems will roll into one even bigger one:  credibility with internal stakeholders.

Corporate Sustainability: Deep Change or Shallow Grave?

Systems that impose burdens, and require constant pressure to deliver will erode internal support for corporate sustainability, along with the engagement that delivers innovation and deep delivery.  Faced with a programme that delivers only limited, short term benefits in return for quite a deal of overhead, a company may overcompensate and cut its commitment.

What Good Corporate Sustainability Looks Like

As with all change, embedding corporate sustainability within a company needs commitment from the top, as some managers will require a push in order to have “their” systems interfered with.  The corporate sustainability team will work with company functions and businesses to redesign elements of corporate sustainability systems so as to deliver improved performance.  The result will be user-friendly approaches that allow ground floor staff to deliver without referring back to teacher.

Such a corporate sustainability programme will have less to do with initiatives and campaigns, and more to do with research, development, business improvement and developing systems of control.  While the outcomes will still lie in those softer corporate areas, such as environment, localisms, carbon, youth training, habitat and community relations etc., the delivery approach may be more structured and less touchy-feely than some might expect.

However the benefits will speak for themselves.

How embedded in strategy and systems are your sustainability programmes?  Are they managed from the top down?  Is it important to have sustainability embedded or is just too impractical in today’s world?  We would love to hear your thoughts.

About the Author

Jonathan Churchman - Davies is a leading thinker on sustainability and business.  His skills are constantly in demand for leading corporate businesses from 35 industrial and commercial sectors.  He has shown businesses how to embed sustainability into their business efficiently and effectively.

Based in Oxfordshire, Jonathan has been a leading advisor to corporate giants such as Serco and May Gurney plc.

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About the Author

Alium has a network of Trusted Partners and Associates around the world who have a great amount of knowledge to share with the interim community. We regularly invite them to create special guest articles giving our readers the most up-to-date and informative market knowledge available. If you would like to write a guest article, please get in contact with Rod McInnes or call 02073987500.

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