Challenges to Being Sustainable, and How to Overcome Them
Corporate sustainability has been a hot topic for years now. Although no designated governing body or regulated standards exist, countless companies have initiated environmentally responsible changes within their organizations.
Over 2,500 companies voluntarily follow the Global Reporting Initiative (GRI), which launched 15 years ago and provides a comprehensive reporting framework to show how companies are integrating sustainability into their operations.
Organizations that incorporate GRI reporting in their own sustainability reports include Tetra Pak and Ford. Clean Earth Inc. also recently published a three year sustainability plan, which incorporates GRI reporting and is designed to improve the triple bottom line of environmental, social and economic performance.
Whichever methodology is used, implementing positive change is challenging. Many established businesses were founded at a time when sustainability wasn’t prioritized and are having to re-evaluate their business to incorporate better practices.
We’ve therefore taken a look at the common barriers businesses face when striving to become more sustainable, along with how to overcome them:
- Senior Support:
–Issue: Becoming a sustainable business requires senior-level buy in – and some of your senior team may be more supportive than others.
–Solution: Add sustainability goals into the personal objectives of senior employees to ensure everyone is accountable for successfully driving change.
- Employee Engagement:
–Issue: Initiating positive change will have a much greater chance of success if employees feel proud and engaged.
–Solution: Appoint an individual or create a team to be the key instigator(s) to drive positive change in the business. These ambassadors can inspire and secure commitment from the rest of the company. Listen to what motivates your employees: if your employees tell you that volunteering is important to them, encourage it – and organize a company-wide volunteering day, like The Royal Bank of Canada and TELUS do annually. For CSR initiatives, consider polling employees to see which causes really matter to them.
–Issue: Fundamentally, businesses are designed to make money – and introducing sustainability initiatives usually comes at a cost.
–Solution: Seeing cost as a barrier is a short-term view. Sustainability programs can improve the efficiency of a business, which saves costs in the long run. Being sustainable will be received positively by customers, which could enhance the number of referrals or repeat business you receive.
–Issue: Without a regulatory body, it’s difficult to determine what to measure. Sustainability initiatives are particularly challenging as they often affect society at a macro-level, which cannot always be quantified.
–Solution: With so many metrics to consider, it’s important to determine your objectives upfront. Bring in a consultant to help you decide which changes would make the biggest impact. Write a plan of action, detailing your goals and how you’re going to achieve them – and deliver it. Make sure your goals are manageable, with realistic deliverables to be met every six months, to help you stay on target.
–Issue: Identifying suppliers that match your business needs as well as your sustainable values is time consuming and difficult.
–Solution: Keep the process simple. If you have long-standing relationships with suppliers that potentially have the capabilities to implement positive change in stride with your company then bring the conversation to the table. If they are unable or unwilling to change, spend time finding an organization that is aligned with your goals – you’ll benefit in the long term.
- Consumers Don’t Care:
–Issue: Consumers do not consistently communicate their desire for sustainable products when exercising their purchasing power.
–Solution: Times are changing – and there is a conscious shift in consumer attitudes towards sustainable products. This is especially true in the agriculture and household goods industries. Paul Polman, Chief Executive at Unilever, is changing the status quo through the development of a “Sustainable Living Plan,” with the ambition to “improve the lives of the world’s citizens and come up with genuine sustainable solutions.” Polman is smart: he is boldly driving change before his competitors, and he’ll win consumer loyalties as a consequence.
The concept of a sustainable business is still in its infancy and undoubtedly metrics and methodologies for measuring sustainability will become more sophisticated over time. In terms of barriers, you’ll inevitably face challenges when introducing change. However any barriers are short-term and can be overcome if you’re serious about becoming sustainable.
The biggest take-away here is: don’t wait until tomorrow to change. The longer you procrastinate, the more likely your competitors are to make the transition to a sustainable business first – and consumers will become less forgiving as awareness of sustainability issues grow.
Jeffrey Puritt is president of TELUS International – a provider of BPO and contact center solutions to global clients. TELUS International is the global arm of TELUS, a leading national telecommunications company in Canada, with $10.5 billion of annual revenue and 12.7 million customer connections.
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