by Aiken PR
AS we continue to live through the uncertainty of Covid and Brexit the one thing that chief executives can be clear on is that unless they connect their purpose and values to a wider world their companies will be left behind.
A short nine years out from the 2030 target for reaching the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) set by the United Nations, business on a local, national and global level is, according to UN’s Global CEO study, far off the mark in the contribution it can and is making.
Confirmed in 2015, the SDGs have a history stretching back decades to the Earth Summit of 1992 when more than 178 countries adopted Agenda 21, ‘a comprehensive plan of action to build a global partnership for sustainable development to improve human lives and protect the environment.’
Although from the outset business has recognised the need to contribute and shown willingness, it has struggled with how to do so effectively. Now, facing pressure from all stakeholder groups it is imperative that it learns how.
In the decade to come sustainability will be driven not just by government and regulators (the Minister for Economy Diane Dodds, has stressed the importance of a Green Economic recovery from the pandemic) but by customers, employees and suppliers.
Gone are the days in which businesses could undertake a few ad hoc initiatives be that philanthropic giving or employee volunteering and call them a CSR strategy.
In the 2020s, employees want to work for businesses that reflect their social and moral values at a much deeper level. Consumers will demand that the businesses they deal with have in place measurable actions that clearly demonstrate the contribution they are making.
Suppliers will want evidence that they are working with company leaders who apply the same stringent standards as their own across the business; from how they treat their staff to how they are reducing their environmental impact to how they are complying with global standards in their own supply chain.
Companies are being asked to step up as never before. In a few short years we have moved from a position of corporate responsibility being ‘do no harm’ to ‘do societal good’.
The demands, particularly of employees and customers, are greater than ever before and, no matter how well intentioned a business may be in its CSR approach, if it is not meeting the exacting standards of its stakeholder groups, in today’s world of real time knowledge and scrutiny it will be found out and the business will suffer.
Trust is built on action and if a company’s sustainability actions are found to be lacking or inauthentic, trust can be lost in the click of a keyboard.
It is time then for companies to operate with social purpose across every aspect of their business and they must do that by building sustainability into operational strategy, making it as measurable as profit and loss.
In doing so, companies that proactively manage the challenges that impact on their licence to operate while taking into account their role in society will prosper, earn and keep the respect of customers and employees, be exposed to fewer reputational risks and ultimately reach their full potential.
This of course, will for many be a case of ‘easier said than done’ however, by looking at every business function through the lens of sustainability it is achievable.
A good place to start is to establish a sustainability steering group that includes all divisional heads, allocating responsibility across the entire team to ensure buy–in. With a clear remit and agenda that group must then consider all that is already being done in order to determine what needs done.
It must look at the impact of the organisation’s actions, define a set number of achievable goals and consider how to effectively measure against them. The group needs to ensure the goals it lands on can be integrated across the business and take a data led approach to their implementation. The goals and the planned route to achieve them must be clearly communicated to all members of staff, seeking their commitment to make certain they are deliverable.
On the journey the group should evidence check impact of actions before scaling up to be certain it will not fail. Stakeholders should be taken on the journey too with data–driven results used to clearly demonstrate that their exacting standards on sustainability are met and that the business is doing so much more than paying lip service to the CDGs that impact on all of our lives.