Read for 5 minutes
Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur Contributors are their own.
Sustainability is a very important concept today. From individuals and corporations to multinational organizations, we strive to reduce the negative impact of our activities on the environment, places and people around the world. There is the moral aspect that companies want to do good while doing business, but there is also the profit motive. Several studies have shown that identifying as a sustainable brand attracts customers to a company and therefore improves the bottom line.
In any case, defining a sustainability strategy for your company is no longer optional. As with all strategies, however, the plan is not nearly as important as the execution, which is why for any company like Walmart and Unilever that has successfully implemented a sustainability strategy, many others have failed. Here are some tips to help you get it right.
Define sustainability for your company
There is no precise definition of sustainability. It ranges from environmental protection by reducing waste to avoiding child labor to promoting economic development and many other facets. Not all of these will apply to your business, however, so it is important to take the time to review all aspects of your business to identify the areas where your business needs to become more sustainable.
Similar: How sustainability is becoming more than just a catchphrase
For a brand like Coca-Cola, whose products are high in water consumption, ensuring that plants are cited in locations and built to ensure the sustainability of the water is a key factor in investment decisions, as analyzed in this Harvard Business School paper . It's important to err on the inclusion side of these decisions, as neglecting one aspect could lead you to very poor PR down the line.
Engage employees and other stakeholders
Your employees are at the forefront of implementing your company's sustainability strategy, so it makes sense to fully involve them as early as possible. You should seek input in preparing the strategy and ensure that everyone is committed to making any changes identified. This is especially important if you find that your employees' actions are likely to be interpreted as company policy. Failure to act appropriately can be very detrimental to your company's reputation.
The same is true for suppliers, as shown by the setback at major brands due to allegations that some of their suppliers use child labor. It is important to take a virtual walk through your supply chain and get in touch with any suppliers or partners to determine their positions on the issues you have identified, to get their approval of the reform, to make sure they are on the right track are, and if necessary to change them.
Set clear, actionable goals
Once you've identified the areas of your operation where change is needed, and after you've addressed all relevant stakeholders, you need to set clear, achievable goals in order to align everyone and work collaboratively. These goals must be communicated to any party whose actions would affect the chances of achieving them. For example, in response to the growing need for cleaning as a result of Covid-19, cleaning companies like the Clean Group have focused on using environmentally friendly materials to reduce environmental damage.
Related: Is sustainability part of your company's DNA?
In setting these goals, it is important that they are based on the interactions with the stakeholders. This will help ensure acceptance and engagement and avoid a situation where the rules appear to be imposed from above without caring about the people responsible for their implementation.
Establish effective processes
Once you know the goals you are striving for, you need to put systems in place to help you achieve them. You can take inspiration from other companies in your industry, but it's important to remember that each company's situation is unique. At this stage, it is important to appoint company executives who are responsible for setting up these processes and working to ensure that they are properly implemented across the company.
This ensures that everyone else can focus on executing their aspect of the strategy, while the officers directly in charge are able to keep everything in sync and ensure that everyone is working together. For this reason, according to a Deloitte survey, many companies have established the role of sustainability officer, and increasingly even a C-suite role to underline the importance of sustainability in their operations.
Similar: Corporate Sustainability: Why Change Is Necessary Now
Track and monitor everything
Monitoring is the final, but possibly the most important step in implementing a sustainability strategy that will benefit the company, stakeholders, and the world at large. Because without effective monitoring systems, it would be impossible to tell whether the company is having a positive effect or is just pouring money down the drain.
In addition to defining the processes the company will use to achieve its goals, these reporting guidelines must be laid down to ensure that all stakeholders communicate their actions and results for the duration of the strategy. The feedback can then be used to iterate the strategy to ensure that every aspect is optimized for the best results in the future.