How to customize your corporate sustainability program

September 27, 2017

Business people discussing a corporate sustainability strategy.Corporate sustainability is getting a lot of attention these days, so it may be surprising to learn that many of the people charged with implementing a sustainability strategy are essentially building without a blueprint. That's because there's no handbook outlining how to structure a corporate sustainability program, according to an article published by GreenBiz. What works for a manufacturing company may not be appropriate for a retail business. However, there are some basic tenets that can be followed to help any organization build a custom plan to enjoy the benefits of sustainability.

The article outlines a continuum of sustainability: 

There is no such thing as a sustainable brand, and there never will be. All that exists are relatively more sustainable companies or—depending on how you look at it—less bad ones.

It also notes it’s not necessarily important where a company lands on the corporate sustainability spectrum as long as they build in the ability to “grow and push the boundaries of what’s possible” into whatever program they implement.

Another key tenet, to paraphrase Greek philosophers, is to know thyself. The article advises corporate leaders to take time to determine why their company exists—beyond simply making money.

Companies with a clear understanding of their core purpose are much better-equipped to design and construct stronger corporate sustainability programs.

The growing number of “purpose-driven” businesses seems to be filling a demand by consumers who want to support brands they believe serve a higher purpose than profit alone.

Once a sustainability strategy is established, the article advises companies to get the word out without “greenwashing” (i.e., exaggerating sustainability claims). It's important to communicate about sustainability success stories accurately and effectively. Creating a clear message that outlines not only the sustainability strategy itself, but also how it impacts operations is key. 

Finally, employee engagement is key to any successful sustainability strategy, but it’s an area many companies struggle to implement. According to a report by Ceres cited in the article, 40 percent of companies surveyed had enacted employee engagement programs, but only 6 percent achieved a “Tier 1” rating. For any sustainability program to succeed long-term, it must have the support and involvement of employees.

With an eye toward these touchpoints, structuring a sustainability program unique to an organization can be less daunting. While not a blueprint, the article offers a solid compass for any company seeking a direction toward a greener future.

Related links:

The benefits of solar energy remain—investors want sustainable companies

PODCAST: Learn how sustainable business practices can benefit your organization

How to improve your board of directors’ corporate sustainability I.Q.

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