If your sustainability strategy does not make it to the operational phase – you are open to charges of greenwashing. All rhetoric and no delivery!
Opertationalising sustainability is about putting sustainability into action. This has to be a collaborative and consultative endeavour with the people who will be doing the implementation. It includes detailed planning, coordinating change projects, redesigning policies, processes and procedures, and, appointing task teams to address and report on specific questions. In some instances, it might mean reimagining your entire business model.
This work will take time. Try to find a logical sequence. While keeping the findings of your materiality assessment in mind, see if you can start with changing something that frees up the critical resource required to enable the next change, and then the same for the next change and so on. Our experience is that people’s time is usually the critical resource.
Opertationalising sustainability requires a system-level appreciation of how the organisation operates from procurement to investment, to internal processes, customer experience to the end of product/service life cycle.
It’s through the operationalization of sustainability that you will create the data required for meaningful ESG reporting and communication with stakeholders.
How to approach the challenge of operationalizing sustainability?
- Ensure there is a sustainability implementation team that is accountable for implementing the strategy. While the team will need some sustainability skills – the team should be multi-disciplinary and cross-functional and drawn from across the organisation. Critically the team must be given the support, resources, and leadership that it will need. Operationalising sustainability is not an ad-hoc exercise to be layered on as a volunteer effort to an already overladen workload.
- Work on building internal alignment across the organisational system – building awareness, understanding, identifying obstacles and crafting solutions, sharing leadership and trust so that the organisation can learn the way forward – as well as plan the way Much of this work is about enabling open dialogue within and between teams.
- The easiest starting point will probably be to reduce costs and to eliminate waste. This can include undertaking an energy audit, value stream mapping, and working with Lean principles. My colleagues Liam Regan and Caroline Naughton at Antaris Consulting are very experienced in this space and will be happy to advise you.
- Bringing a sustainability strategy to life also requires looking more broadly. It requires you to assess the full life cycle performance of the products and services that you provide. For example, financial advisors might evaluate their recommendations through a sustainability lens or a food service business could make menu decisions based on sustainability impacts.
- While the materiality assessment will have highlighted current priorities – part of keeping sustainability operational is to ask – what is the materiality assessment not seeing? This invites you to benchmark against sectoral trends, to prepare for the future through targeted R&D investment and evaluation of how your training and education budget is invested so that you are creating the basis for a different future rather than locking in the past.
- For many organisations, partnering with suppliers is key to operationalising sustainability. In fact for true system-level change partnering is probably essential – particularly when you consider that approximately 90% of greenhouse gas emissions fall under scope 3 – meaning that they occur outside the organisational boundary.
- For a truly transformational approach to operationalising sustainability – re-evaluate your business model. What are your circular credentials? To what extent can you shift towards keeping resources in use and move away from the old take-make-waste linear model? My colleague Bruce Harper has expertise in circular methods and he will be delighted to review this with you. There are supports available for circular economy projects.
Your next step
While this might seem overwhelming, the best starting point is with the sustainability issue over which you have the most influence. Then let the impacts of your success there cascade onto the next sustainability issue and so on, to create the foundation for a virtuous cycle.
Operationalising sustainability requires a positive culture with a capacity for experimentation and an openness to learning, from both successes and failures. This, in turn, needs an organisational environment that encourages transparency, openness, and accountability.
External consultants can help you with any aspect of your sustainability journey. Their experience and expertise might be especially useful for addressing the operational challenge. There are several support schemes in place to help you.
Antaris Consulting is here to help. Don’t hesitate to contact us.