10. May 2021 By Kristina Klein
Developing a sustainability strategy – more than just a chore?
The issue of sustainability is appearing in more and more media headlines and is becoming increasingly important in society as a whole. The focus has long since shifted away from resting squarely on environmental issues alone – ethical and social aspects now play a role, too. As a result, people are increasingly questioning the meaning of their own actions and considering the impact they have.
For the younger generations in particular, it’s no longer all about maximising financial profit, but rather maximising profit in the form of positive social and ecological outcomes – they want to do something good. This attitude not only informs what they choose to do in their private lives, but also what they choose to buy and who they choose to work for.
That’s why it’s also becoming increasingly important for companies to make conscious and considerate use of the resources they employ (this might be anything from the amount of electricity they use to company cars to employees) to ensure they meet the demands of all of their stakeholders (customers, employees and investors). They need to create a unifying idea that they can stand behind with their stakeholders.
The first step towards this is defining sustainability goals, which then create a framework for all further goals. This justifies the company’s actions and provides context for the impacts they’ll have. The ‘what’ this communicates (in other words, what does the company want to achieve) can then be used to derive the strategic measures – the ‘how’.
A sustainable business strategy nowadays gives companies a raison d’être and highlights the positive contribution they make to society and the environment. This will ensure that the company will continue to exist in a better future for everyone. The sustainable goals don’t necessarily have to have a sustainable focus in the sense of ecological aspects. Rather, the way that the company does its business should be fundamentally oriented towards the social and ecological insights that have risen to the top of today’s agenda.
This means that given the information we know about climate change, a company shouldn’t use and consume resources in the same way it did 150 years ago. Instead, it should reflect on its actions, adapt them accordingly and continue to work on them. There are also different expectations of employee management these days. Employees need to be given trust and freedom in order to be happy and remain loyal to a company, which in the long term means that it treats its employees – in the sense that they’re a ‘resource’ – in a more sustainable and careful way. This results in sustainable business, which can manifest itself in a number of different ways – not only in the form of environmental goals, but also in social and economic ones.
There are four perspectives that need to be taken into account when it comes to defining these goals and the resulting measures.
Perspective 1 – Can employees identify with your strategy?
A sustainability strategy should lead employees to identify with the company to an even greater extent. This happens by making employees feel valued first and foremost. They get the message from their employer that they aren’t just seen as robots, but as real people, and that their employer is interested their well-being. This can happen by the employer paying attention to the little things that have no direct benefit for them, but increase employee satisfaction all the same.
It’s also crucial that employees trust the management. This trust can be built up by the management acting with transparency and adhering to the values and measures it communicates. The main goal shouldn’t be constantly maximising profits and growth alone. Rather, there should also be a role for preserving the corporate culture and looking beyond the company’s own horizons, such as by drawing inspiration from social and ecological areas. These shouldn’t be exploited, but the existing resources should instead be handled sustainably and carefully and, if possible, their preservation and continued existence should be ensured.
As a result, the extent to which employees identify with and are loyal to the company can be increased with small measures that still have a major impact overall. Examples of this are switching to direct-trade coffee or – as is also customary at adesso – providing an allowance for sporting activities.
An increased level of identification automatically leads to greater motivation among employees, greater commitment and more goal-oriented work – improving quality and increasing quantity as a result.
Perspective 2 – Is your strategy relevant for your customers?
Another thing to focus on is convincing your customers of what you’re doing. One way of achieving this is via the products you offer. For example, you could make a set contribution to social projects per every item you sell. Another way of attracting your customers’ attention is through your corporate strategy. If the company is geared towards sustainability at its core, customers also make an indirect contribution to sustainable action through their conscious choice to use that company’s services or buy its products. This can have a decisive influence on the customer’s purchase decision when they weigh up whether to opt for a competitor’s products or yours.
Perspective 3 – Does management benefit from your strategy?
The goals that a company sets out must of course also have a tangible positive benefit for the management so that they are committed to implementing the measures and pursuing them with intent. The first two perspectives in this post have already touched upon the idea that the ultimate goal is also a self-serving one. This is because the increased motivation of the employees and the increased relevance for the customers already improve the quality and quantity of the work results as well as the sales and customer figures.
Plus, meaningful goals and measures improve the reputation of the company, which in turn attracts the attention of both new and old investors.
At the same time, it is fundamental for credibility that the management visibly backs and support the goals, acts transparently according to them and embodies them. This can be achieved, for example, by linking management goals to sustainability aspects, reorienting investments in accordance with ESG (Environment, Social, Governance) standards or implementing small-scale projects within the company to improve employee satisfaction.
Perspective 4 – Does your strategy have a positive impact on the environment?
The fourth perspective is geared towards the environment on a global level, by which we mean nature and society. It generally goes without saying that the best outcome is when a sustainable corporate strategy has a tangible positive benefit for society, the environment and wildlife. With that in mind, the minimum goal should be to cause zero lasting damage in these areas so that future generations can enjoy and benefit from them in the same way.
All four of these perspectives must be factored when defining and implementing the goals. Focussing on just one aspect – for example on customers – may lead to management neglecting employees. Moreover, a company will only appear truly credible and convincing if they implement their measures consistently.
Once the goals have been defined, a strategy and the resulting measures can be derived:
- What compensation mechanisms can be created for the employees?
- How does social responsibility come into play?
- Which markets and customers need to be addressed?
- Which products fit the company?
- What impact do we have on society and the environment?
- And so on.
The developed strategy should be communicated transparently. This not only inspires confidence among employees, but also garners the attention of the market.
When it comes down to it, it’s a matter of course that having a consistent sustainability strategy means putting in the effort for any company. Effort that motivates employees. Effort that attracts new customer groups. Effort that makes the company more socially and environmentally responsible. Effort that creates a better world.
I want to hear from you! Is sustainability something that you’re engaging in with your customers? Perhaps you’ve already been involved in sustainability projects? Feel free to let me know! firstname.lastname@example.org
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