“If humanity changed the climate by mistake…we can change it with intent” – So declared Interface in 2016 – a US-based floor coverings business that has pioneered corporate sustainability.
A sustainability strategy is a prioritised set of commitments and supporting actions that purposefully address a range of environmental, social, and governance issues while also supporting long-term business value. The priorities will be identified during the materiality assessment phase of your sustainability journey.
Where do you start?
A sustainability strategy doesn’t have to start with a blank sheet. Most of the organisations we speak with already have ongoing projects in areas such as waste reduction and reuse, employee well-being, diversity and inclusion, and so on.
However, there are two important points to reflect on. First, sustainability and business ambition must find alignment. If they do not – sustainability will be orphaned to the periphery of the organisation as an optional bolt-on. This means the senior management team must invest themselves in understanding and making sense of their why for a sustainability strategy.
Second, strategy is not just a re-packaging exercise of what you are already doing. A strong sustainability strategy requires a ruthless discernment around what your organisation is going to stop doing, what its longer-term vision is, and what it is going to start doing to progress towards its vision.
Steps Towards Crafting a Sustainability Strategy
The steps that we would typically guide clients through in a strategic planning process include:
- Engage the senior management team in a dialogue about what the organisation is already doing from a sustainability perspective in the context of organizational purpose
- Identify the gaps between the current state and sustainability by being mindful of materiality
- Benchmark the issues emerging against sectoral indicators and recognised sustainability frameworks such as the Sustainable Development Goals.
- Continue to test the emergent strategy for its resilience. Question the strategy against criteria such as feasibility, acceptability, and suitability bearing in mind that different stakeholders will hold diverging perspectives.
- Agree on credible sustainability goals that can galvanise and inspire the organisation towards meaningful action.
- Communicate the strategy in a manner that moves beyond metrics and indicators. Embed the strategy of your organisational story to connect intuitively and emotionally with people. This must be led from the top.
- The world keeps changing so monitor and evaluate the strategy routinely and keep it in an adaptive state
The Three Horizons Framework
We have found the Three Horizons framework to be a very effective support to strategic planning in a sustainability context. It’s about creating a space where the three divergent perspectives can see each other and work together to create an integrated strategy.
Weaker strategies will be dominated by one or just two perspectives and miss the third.
Figure 1: Three Horizons Framework – adapted from Bill Sharpe (2013)
Based on this framework, the type of strategic questions we engage our clients with include:
- What’s not working and needs to be let go?
- What needs to be conserved?
- Where are the “pockets of the future” right now that you can build from?
- How might you bridge the gap to your preferred future?
- Where might resistance to change emerge from within the organizational system?
What is the Sustainability Case for Business?
Strategic planning for sustainability is not an easy exercise if it is to be done well.
However, we notice that organisations are shifting rapidly from believing that there needs to be a business case for sustainability to recognising and accepting, first and foremost there must be a sustainability case for business.
The choice is one of long-term sustainable profitability and value creation, or a short-term focus with inferior prospects.
There is an excellent range of supports from Enterprise Ireland, the IDA and other agencies to support your sustainability journey.
Contact Antaris to discuss further. We would be delighted to partner with you.
Sharpe, B. (2013) Three Horizons The Patterning of Hope Triarchy Press