The top five tips for a successful sustainability strategy implementation By Lucy Picken

If you have implemented a sustainability strategy into your business, then you will have a good idea of the key sustainability issues that have an impact on your business. However, it is important that once you have that strategy in place, you don’t stop there, and you start to progress towards meeting your targets.

Whether you’re an SME or a large organisation and no matter the sector you are in, here are some tips to think about once you start implementing your sustainability strategy, progressing towards targets and monitoring your performance.

1. It’s ok to not be where you thought you were

Once you start collecting baseline data against your set targets and commitments, you may find that the data isn’t what you thought it would be. For example, you may not have as much data as you originally thought and you need to start from scratch and find ways to report it, or you may be producing more carbon emissions than you thought, once you start collecting all scopes (scopes 1, 2 and 3).

This is a time to take a step back, start from the beginning and implement good communication and processes within your company, so you can start creating a robust baseline. Create an action plan, where you can give individuals roles and responsibilities and start with a methodology on how you’re going to collect, report, and analyse data.

Continual improvement is also key – if you have some data but not all of it is good, then learn from the good aspects that you have done and build on it, so that you are not starting from scratch again every time you encounter an issue.

2. Support from senior leadership is very important

The way that senior leaders act within a company will impact all other levels of the company. Sometimes referred to as the ‘trickle down effect’ – this refers to top level behaviours impacting those below e.g. positive and motivating actions will trickle down. This is also relevant to sustainability with the motivation from top level management determining the company’s progression to implement processes to meet sustainability targets.

If top level management are motivated and keen to implement change, then other levels will be too. It is important to get senior leaders involved early and communicate with them regularly throughout the process. For example, involving senior leaders in training and workshops will also encourage other employees to get involved and understand that they should also complete training.

3. There will be ups and downs

This is normal and you are not alone! There will be times where things don’t go to plan, where things are taking longer than expected or you feel like you’re just not getting anywhere. That’s okay, just stick with it!

Those working on a company’s sustainability strategy may have another day job they need to prioritise, individuals may leave a company or day jobs may go through an extreme busy period (amongst many other situations). Regular catch ups and setting deadlines can help individuals feel organised and able to keep on top of what needs doing. By setting clear responsibilities and accountabilities, this will also help individuals to take ownership and push forward when there may be ups or downs.

When there’s ‘ups’ it is also important to share that best practice and how it can be used again in different parts of the business. When there’s ‘downs’ it is important to use lean management principles to properly understand and question why it didn’t work and how it can be improved, using innovation and ideas to improve.

4. Sustainability strategies can and should be updated

We recommend reviewing your strategy every 1-2 years. This may be due to time passing or wanting to add more detail to your strategy. However, it is important that you DO NOT do this in a greenwashing way.

If you need to update new targets, make sure you have evidence and a robust, valid reason to do so and provide commentary as to why you have edited / updated your target. For example, achieving your net zero carbon target by 2030 may not be achievable – this may be due to when you set your targets and there is now more carbon evidence (such as the SBTi Corporate Net Zero Standard) to suggest you need to add near and long-term targets in line with Science Based Targets. Be transparent but avoid greenwashing!

5. Communication is key

Communication is important for both internal employees and external stakeholders. From an internal perspective, you should make sure that individuals are updated and involved throughout the process – this could be through a regular newsletter, or company meetings.

From an external perspective, this involves engaging with communities, clients, and suppliers so that you can bring them along the journey and keep them updated with progress too. This allows you to be open and transparent with all stakeholders about what you are doing with regard to sustainability, how you are progressing and how they can be involved.

Implementing sustainability is an ongoing process and by keeping these key things in mind, this process should hopefully be that little bit easier.

For help on developing, implementing, or updating your sustainability strategy, get in touch with Lucy.

For more information

Lucy Picken
Consultant Researcher

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