Did you ever have that feeling that sustainability issues are overwhelming – and you don’t know what to do about it? Where to start?
I sure did. I talked about that aha moment in one of my recent articles.
Every day we face an overwhelming number of sustainability-related information and doomsday scenarios. For businesses, it’s not easy to get to the bottom of what an organisation can or should do to make a positive contribution to society and the environment.
It’s easy to get lost in the macrotrends – let’s take for example the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). They are a valuable and amazing piece of work by the United Nations which requires nations to adhere to a clear set of goals to achieve a more sustainable world, and to report on their progress towards those goals. There’s even a deadline: 2030.
We´ve seen lots of businesses adhere to SDGs by selecting those most relevant to them. It’s a bold statement and shows commitment. But it must become more than a letter of intent or a policy. Also, how do you choose from 17, equally important, SDGs?
On the other hand, if you commit for example to SDG 16 “Peace, Justice and Strong Institutions” as a small or midsize business, wherever you’re located, how exactly can you contribute to maintaining peace? As individuals, and as commercial organisations, we´re powerless in the face of wars – and that’s frustrating. Even if you make it a statement of intent, how can you have an impact?
That’s why I believe that connecting sustainability to fundamental business goals, including financial goals and results, is the key to demystifying sustainability for your business. Defining your Environment, Social and Governance (ESG) strategy is a good starting point. When you think about the environment, society and governance, what are the first things that come to mind? How many different aspects of those areas need to be fixed or improved within your organisation, so it can be called “sustainable”?
Furthermore, there is the inherent tension between doing well, while doing good. Some believe businesses should have an ethical code of conduct because it’s the right thing to do. Not because it leads to more prosperity or growth. I dare to challenge that expectation, precisely because it’s very easy to write a letter of intent or a policy, saying that your firm has high moral standards. But again: how do you prove it? How do you measure it? Will your stakeholders believe you? How do they hold you accountable?
The solution is knowing what your business can and should do, to “meet the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their needs”. And for businesses of all sizes that means having a clear picture of what sustainability means for their organisations, including clear metrics and goals.
Sustainability should be at the core of every business that wants to endure and thrive. Wherever you are in your journey, take the time to reflect but also be pragmatic. A plan based on understanding the link between social and environmental aspects and your own governance will help you focus on clear metrics and goals for your organisation.
PS: Photography by Peter Krumme on Flickr.