During my research in corporate sustainability, I have identified six strategic factors critical to successfully integrating sustainability throughout an organisation. The degree to which these factors are adopted, indicates the level of engagement from organisations. These are the most common factors that continue to crop up in academic literature and important areas to address when embedding a new strategy within an organisation.
An internal and/or external mission statement frames an organisation’s definition of corporate sustainability. One of my first blogs discussed the importance of individual companies defining the context of sustainability relevant to their organisation and its unique operations and impacts. A tailored mission or vision statement defines the company’s goal and how sustainability is relevant to that goal.
There are two elements to sustainability leadership; organisation structure and communication. Firstly, an executive level role, responsible for the company’s sustainability objectives clearly identifies sustainability as important to the organisation to implement, monitor and manage. Secondly, the entire leadership team should be effectively communicating the sustainability strategy, mission and values of the organisation to staff and external stakeholders.
Addressing corporate culture; those commonly held workplace behaviours, values and attitudes, are an important part of embedding a shared vision of sustainability. Culture is the yardstick for measuring how successfully a sustainability strategy has been integrated throughout the organisation.
Publically reporting on sustainability metrics, for example, using the Global Reporting Initiative (GRI) is an important practice. It is a powerful communication tool for organisations, and serves to enhance credibility and reputation in the marketplace.
Internal policies and systems are important for addressing organisational operations, activities and processes. They are the terms of reference for “the way we do things around here”. Examples are; a sustainable procurement strategy, health and safety system, energy, carbon and waste policy or ethical business policy.
Identifying stakeholders as broader than those with a financial investment in your organisation is a first step. The next step is to proactively engage with your stakeholders. This signifies a shift from managing the organisation’s financial investment to managing the impact of operations with society or specific groups that may be affected e.g. consumers, community, NGO’s and government.