Top tips for developing a sustainability strategy By Imogen Player

Last month during a sustainability strategy workshop at the Supply Chain Sustainability School’s 10 year summit event, 61% of people said they had little to no knowledge on how to develop their own strategy.

With tier one contractors and clients consistently asking their supply chain for sustainability information and data, many tier two and three contractors (and beyond) are developing their own sustainability strategies, to understand what their impacts are and manage and report on them in a structured way.

As more organisations are taking their first steps to developing their strategies, it’s handy to remember these top tips:

Prioritise

You can’t manage everything, so focus on the issues that are key to your business. Understand what your risks and impacts are, what’s driving your organisation to be more sustainable and what good looks like in your market and to your clients. Keep it simple!

Framework

Engage your stakeholders in your process for developing your strategy. By engaging with colleagues early on, this encourages buy-in from the beginning and helps you to set realistic and achievable goals.

When defining your sustainability framework, use easy-to-understand and SMART terminology. This helps all stakeholders to understand what you’re committing to and what you’re delivering.

Use the following language:

  • Vision What does your organisation aspire to become? This focuses on tomorrow.
  • Mission What’s your organisation’s objectives and how will you reach them? This focuses on today and what your organisation currently does.
  • Policy What are your internal principles of action and rules for sustainability decision making?
  • Goal What’s the outcome of your actions?
  • Commitments What are you committing to that will help you to achieve your goal?
  • Objectives and targets What short-term actions do you need to do to achieve your commitments? Targets are typically more quantifiable than objectives.

Objectives and targets

Objectives and targets are such an important part of your strategy framework that they deserve their own top tip section here. This is where the detail of your strategy comes out – you need a focus on what you are trying to achieve, making sure that it is achievable but challenging. The objectives and targets you set are an output of understanding what your priorities and drivers for sustainability are. Making them SMART and quantifiable allows you to collect data and manage your performance, more of which in the final top tip section.

Action plan

Once you’ve developed your simple framework of goals and commitments, keep an action plan so that you can track progress and break down the targets into manageable, smaller actions. Identify who will be responsible for delivering the actions, what the timescale is for delivery and whether any support or resources are required.

Roles and responsibilities

Setting roles and responsibilities to achieve your targets is important for buy-in and for successfully delivering your actions. Consider integrating actions into job descriptions and use a RACI (responsible, accountable, consulted and informed) matrix to structure your actions.

Think about what roles your stakeholders play. You may need your clients to advise you, or your suppliers to provide you with data. Keep them informed and let them know what you’re doing and what might be of expected of them.

Communicate your strategy

Share your strategy with your stakeholders – let your clients know how you can support them; let your employees know what the company is doing and how they can support; let your suppliers know your direction of travel. Putting the detail of your strategy on your website indicates what your sustainability vision is and what stakeholders can expect from you.

This step is important in holding yourself to account – we’ve seen organisations put all the hard work in to develop their strategy and then not communicate it or push forwards in delivering their strategy. Don’t let your hard work or enthusiasm go to waste!

Training

You need to provide and empower colleagues with the skills to be able to deliver against the actions they’ve been set, especially if those actions are embedded in their job descriptions or targets.

A training needs analysis is a good way of structuring ‘who needs to know what’. For example, not all job roles and seniority levels will need to know everything about your sustainability strategy – some may need a more in-depth understanding of certain sustainability issues to be able to deliver their actions.

Consider answering these questions:

  • Who needs to know what?
  • When do they need to have the skills by?
  • How much available time do they have to complete it?
  • What resources exist already?
  • What resources need to be developed?

Reprioritise and focus if needs be

Setting and implementing strategies for sustainability is actually about change management and changing the way people work. As with any change management process, there may come times when engagement is low, and actions aren’t being delivered – don’t panic! The important thing is to not go backwards. Reprioritise and focus if needs be – reflect on all of the progress that you’ve made and figure out how you can still move forward.

Maintaining internal engagement can be difficult, especially when starting out delivering a strategy – many organisations often don’t have a dedicated resource and instead ask that staff support on top of their day job. Organisations we’ve worked with have overcome this obstacle by working with those that are engaged, providing them with the skills and training that they need, being honest and open about progress, and reprioritising actions when needed.

Performance management

When delivering your strategy, you need to know how you’re performing against your targets so that you can see progress, understand where your hotspots are and where you need to improve. Measure your baseline to understand your current performance and set realistic targets – after all, you can’t manage what you don’t measure!

By considering all of the top tips above when developing your sustainability strategy (or even refreshing your current strategy) it’ll help you to communicate a realistic and well-thought-out framework for managing your sustainability impacts.

For more information or to find out how Action Sustainability supports organisations to develop and deliver their own sustainability strategies, contact Imogen@actionsustainability.com.

For more information

Imogen Player
Senior Consultant
Imogen@actionsustainability.com

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