How Executives Can Develop a More Effective Sustainability Strategy

By Ava Carter

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The best business leaders know that sustainable change starts from the top. Because executives are responsible for developing the strategies that will lead to corporate sustainability, it is essential that they commit to the right policies and practices that will bring their company and consumers success. While sustainability programs can be incredibly complex, the best strategies for developing them are relatively simple. Here are a few of the most essential tasks for business executives in pursuit of corporate sustainability:

Invest in a Formal Sustainability Program

Informal sustainability initiatives can make an impact, but it is difficult to measure progress on sustainability projects when they are not united in a cohesive framework. When business leaders institute a formal sustainability program, they communicate to employees and consumers their commitment to improving the social and environmental impacts of business operations. Then, leaders can build strategies and roadmaps and assign sustainability-related tasks to staff teams to ensure that sustainability goals are being met in an efficient manner.

Acquire Advanced Sustainability Training

Many executives shy away from corporate sustainability programs simply because they are not appropriately familiar with the concept. Fortunately, leaders can enroll in courses about corporate sustainability, which will provide them with the information and experience necessary to develop an effective program within their own organizations.

Hire Sustainability Experts

While online training can provide the background leaders need to launch sustainability initiatives, they will likely fall short of transforming an executive into a sustainability expert capable of guiding a sustainability program to outstanding success. Most businesses will benefit in hiring talent with the sustainability knowledge and skills to achieve organizational goals. Some companies prefer to contract sustainability consultants as contingent workers, while others, with more long-term sustainability objectives, might want to create a dedicated sustainability team. Leaders should consider what they hope to accomplish with their sustainability programs before making any hiring decisions.

Recognize Why Sustainability Matters

Some executives make the mistake of assuming that corporate sustainability matters only because of consumer opinion. The truth is that sustainable practices have the potential to radically improve business operations — by attracting top talent, streamlining processes, eliminating waste and appeasing conscientious customers.  Corporate sustainability will only become more relevant to businesses in the coming years, so the sooner business leaders build their sustainability programs, the better.

Identify Sustainability Risks

Every business decision comes with risk, and corporate sustainability programs are no exception. However, failing to take action in instituting sustainability policies and practices could be even more threatening to the future of a business. In addition to continuing to devastate the environment humans need to survive, a failure to develop a sustainability program could negatively impact a company’s brand reputation. When that occurs, consumers are less likely to engage with products, and employees are more likely to leave in search of more rewarding work. Thus, business leaders need to consider not only the risks of acting but the risks of failing to act, as well.

Obtain Employee Buy-in

Employees can be remarkably resistant to change, even change that is likely to have positive effects. Thus, executives need to be careful to acquire employee buy-in at every stage of the sustainability program development process. It might be useful for leaders to brush up on their change management strategies to prevent opposition to sustainability from staff. Engaging employees in sustainability initiatives early can help achieve buy-in, and communicating consistently about sustainability goals and progress can keep staff excited about the program.

Maintain Transparency

Consumer approval should not be the only reason for business leaders to develop sustainability programs, but neither should executives strive to hide their sustainable accomplishments from the world. Transparency regarding sustainable practices will help keep employees, customers, investors and other stakeholders informed and engaged. To maintain transparency, leaders should regularly publish sustainability reports that explain in straightforward language how the company is making progress toward its social and environmental goals.

Resolve Sustainability Problems Swiftly

It is imperative that leaders take their sustainability programs seriously and invest the resources, time and energy necessary to achieve their goals. When problems arise, leaders need to resolve them as swiftly as possible to keep programs on track toward success. Hiring sustainability staff can help with this, as experts are more likely to have the knowledge and skill necessary to avoid and overcome issues.

Business leaders need to prioritize corporate sustainability programs that address the social and environmental impacts of their businesses. By making changes from the top, executives can help their organizations survive and thrive for decades to come.

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