You can tell a great deal about an organisation by the location of their senior sustainability role in the organisation structure. Such as, their emphasis on sustainability projects and how far they have come implementing sustainability throughout the company.
An organisation that ranks sustainability as strategically important and fundamental to their continuing innovation and development will have a corporate sustainability role reporting to the CEO, or positioned at the senior levels of their corporate hierarchy.
Integrating sustainability throughout an organisation covers a variety of areas, from improving the operational performance of a facility by reducing energy or carbon emissions, or designing and manufacturing sustainable products, to exploring and implementing disruptive business models that extend the boundary of traditional business and improve growth opportunities. In short, from reducing cost and risk management, to adding value to the business.
Corporate sustainability covers a broad area, the role focus reflects the progress of a company in implementing sustainability. It’s not surprising that organisations tend to select one area to focus on, especially when they are just starting out. If the focus os operational improvements then the sustainability role will likely be placed in facility management structure or even health and safety. If the focus is marketing green products, then, you guessed it, the sustainability role will be located in Sales & Marketing.
Take Nike as an example. Hannah Jones is the Vice President of Sustainable Business and Innovation. Hannah is part of the senior team, a couple of levels from the CEO. In an organisation as large as Nike, with 38,000 employees, this is evidence of the importance of the role, and sustainability, in Nike’s future development. Now for the focus area. In the past, Nike has experienced reputation problems with its treatment of factory workers in developing countries. Unsurprisingly, they have selected someone with a strong background in social issues and advocacy to navigate them out of stormy waters in this department. This has resulted in developing their social responsibility agenda by engaging in positive relationships using disruptive, social business models. This will drive business growth in developing markets, while doing good for the people living in developing countries. The role’s link with business innovation has increased the development of sustainable products, such as reusing waste materials in shoes. Nike’s senior level responsibility for integrating sustainability into the business, coupled with the resources allocated to this area make Nike a leading company in corporate sustainability.
If you want to know the sustainability focus of a company, and how advanced they are in applying sustainability to their business – ask which department their sustainability role is located.