4 Ways To Fold Sustainability Into Your Company’s Goals
When it comes to sustainability, plenty of businesses has terrific, awe-inspiring aspirations. Unfortunately, they’re finding it difficult to make those dreams a reality.
According to Bain & Company research, merely 2% of organizations have reached or surpassed their sustainability program’s goals. It’s not that they aren’t trying, either. They’re just realizing it’s much harder than expected to operate in more sustainable ways.
Nevertheless, the future is now, and many experts are warning that this decade will be pivotal in the race to slow climate change. BSR CEO and president Aron Cramer stress that our actions over the next 10 years are critical. “We will peak emissions in line with the Paris Agreement or we won’t,” he writes. “Business will regain public trust or it won’t.”
In other words, businesses are at the wake-up call stage where big efforts need to happen. After all, achieving 2% of your goal isn’t so bad if the goal is big, bold, and daring enough. This brings up the underlying question: How can you put your company’s eco-conscientiousness into hyperdrive? Start by taking the following steps:
1. Understand your stakeholders’ sustainability preferences and expectations.
Perhaps you’ve heard that your customers, investors, or even employees want you to take a strong stand on going green. But what does that mean, exactly? Sustainability objectives can run the gamut. You don’t want to disappoint your stakeholders by wasting time on the wrong actions.
As of February 2021, for instance, almost 9 in 10 people said they wanted companies to do more to reduce their carbon footprints. That’s not surprising, of course. Younger consumers have been leading the eco-friendly charge. According to Shikha Jain, partner at Simon-Kucher & Partners, “Millennials and Gen Z are becoming a force to be reckoned with as they continue to represent a larger share of the consumer demographic. Companies that don’t have sustainability as part of their core value proposition need to act now to protect against future reputational impacts and loss of market share.”
The bottom line is that if you haven’t gathered input from stakeholders, now is the time. You’ll avoid zigging when you should be zagging and get a clearer vision of where to start in your sustainability efforts.
2. Go big or go home with your major sustainability goals.
It’s no longer acceptable to just say that your company operates with a green vision or has slashed your carbon emissions by 20% in the past five years. Many stakeholders see those actions as the bare minimum of what you should be doing. Instead, set out to do something that gets you a bit of buzz.
What would seem fearless or daring? Make sure that every supply chain partner you have is at carbon-zero within the next decade? Limiting your total landfill waste to three trash bins a year? Reach for the stars and forget about being modest or subtle. People like hearing about action.
Worried that you won’t get anywhere near your target? Think back to that 2% statistic. Most consumers won’t penalize you if you make honorable, genuine strides toward your ambitious goals. As long as you’re acting in good faith and with integrity, you shouldn’t have to fret about reputational blowback. In 2018, clothing retailer Everlane promised to use zero virgin plastics within three years. Although it’s 10% short of its goal, it still celebrates—and so do its customers.
Of course, you’ll need to conduct research before sharing your pledge with the world. Make certain your goal dovetails perfectly with your corporate values. Everything needs to be in alignment so you can clearly communicate your efforts and get widespread buy-in.
3. Identify the mile markers needed to hit your sustainability target.
Once you have your broader sustainability goal in mind, map out some SMART goals to make it come to fruition. Remember that SMART goals are sustainable, measurable, attainable, relevant, and timely. By laying your plans against a SMART framework, you can determine a specific path forward.
Let’s say that your big goal is to be net-zero in 10 years. This is no new concept to Dr. Roxby Hartley, senior regulatory consultant and team lead for compliance management services at EcoEngineers. According to Hartley, you have to think about every aspect of this aim to get it right.
“For net-zero, any industries that produce emissions must capture all their greenhouse gas emissions and pay for them to be sequestered,” Hartley writes. “We haven’t thought about paying to capture the CO2 that we burn when the water for our shower is heated; our home is warmed; our food cooked; and when we travel, or fly, or pour the foundation for our buildings. However, to achieve net-zero, all greenhouse gas emissions must be sequestered—and it is a cost that we are all going to have to bear.”
This is an excellent reminder that you have to examine your goal from all sides. Your goal will be easier to achieve if you force yourself to think of smaller SMART goals leading up to it. It will help you keep the momentum because you’re more tuned in to all the changes that need to happen leading up to your big, sustainable win.
4. Take a small step forward—and then another.
Sustainability programs can seem overwhelming when you look at them from a 30,000-foot view. What happens then? You and your team might start to wither under feelings of inadequacy and analysis paralysis. Which choices are most important? What if you make a bad decision?
There are no guarantees when it comes to climate change and sustainability. This is uncharted territory. So the best thing you can do is just start. Chipping away at the edges might feel insufficient, but it can get things moving. Best of all, you can start tracking key metrics and publishing them for your stakeholders to see.
Don’t let perfect be the enemy of good. Your objective should be action—not perfection. As you pass each small milestone, you’ll know that you’re inching closer to beating back climate change in the best way possible for your organization.
Will you need to make adjustments along the way? Absolutely. Your initiatives will evolve along with the changes taking place around the world. That’s to be expected. Modifying your targets won’t reflect poorly on your business if those modifications are done thoughtfully and transparently with new data in mind.
Business as usual won’t cut it anymore. The future of your company depends on how you impact the future of the earth. And sustainability is a place where moving even 2% toward your goal counts.