How to integrate sustainable values in your business? (1/2)

I prone and support companies to integrate sustainability in their day-to-day business, but actually why is that so important? How can it be done?

End of 2015, before COP21, SustainAbility together with GlobeScan released an Infographic based on their survey towards experts on sustainability that highlights the following topics:

  • Who had a leading role in advancing the SDGs (Sustainable Development Goals) since 1992?
  • Who should lead the sustainable development agenda over the next 20 years?
  • Which companies? Which NGOs? Which government lead the way towards sustainability?

This infographic clearly confirms what I have been promoting for 6 years. Companies NEED to integrate Sustainability in their business not as added value but in their “DNA”, Strategy. This is not only a small item to address during the annual reporting exercise.

Companies are increasingly more aware of the need to be more pro-active on this topic, more companies are using the GRI reporting templates, more companies have been through concrete actions proven to go beyond general statements about sustainability. However, they remain few in comparison with the global market.

As stated by the Convention on Biological Diversity through their Aichi targets and Business and Biodiversity platforms, it is very important that businesses take their part of responsibility towards sustainability and play an active role towards the people and the other market players . Why that?

  • Because Companies are driving customers’ interests on specific topics and at the same time, are driven by customers that are more and more conscious of the impact they can/want to have on the Planet (=Environment + People).
  • Because Companies are users of natural resources (Biodiversity), so they have responsibilities on how they use them to ensure that the future generations still have access to them.
So how could we incorporate Sustainability into the business?

One sure thing is that at first, you need your top management to really want this and sign off the Sustainable Goals.

But then how can we start this journey?

A study released end of 2015 by SustainAbility identified 5 paths that could be followed:

  • Employing business model thinking: “Understanding how the business creates social, environmental and financial value can provide increased clarity into the company’s value proposition and purpose.”
  • Putting materiality to use: By focusing on one or a select few issues, companies can identify how the issues impact the business, dedicate resources to establishing goals and metrics, and fully embed the issue into the business.

Setting goals related to a material sustainability issue enables employees to better understand how it relates to their roles, builds wider ownership for the issue and related outcomes, and helps ensure that the issue is being managed at a strategic level across the business.

  • Applying a sustainability lens to products and services: Developing sustainable products and services can foster the integration of sustainability
    more deeply into business by engaging numerous departments.
  • Tapping into culture: Forming a culture that enables employees to understand what sustainability means for both their specific company and their roles within the company is necessary in order to embed sustainability more deeply into the business.

Employees must have a mutual understanding of sustainability issues in order to fully integrate into the company’s decision-making.

  • Leveraging transparency: Integrated reporting is one aspect of transparency that can be used to both drive and reflect a company’s integrated approach to sustainability. The process of creating an integrated report can bring together cross-functional teams, foster greater understanding about how the company creates value and spotlight areas ripe for further integration.

These paths are not the only ones but are relevant to most of businesses and easy to interpret which is a big step before implementing.

However, I would like to highlight one particular path to my clients.

We, at BiodivSourcing, work with companies using natural resources as the basis of their business and values. For them, the path: Applying a sustainable lens to products or services is particularly relevant and could therefore be a an interesting path to focus on, when aiming at integrating Sustainability in their business.

Taking the case of a natural ingredients supplier to the Cosmetic sector, the majority of them are aware of the importance of Sustainability but due to the tough market, only few of them have integrated Sustainability in their overall strategy. Applying a lens to such companies’ supply chains could be very relevant as they can learn from it and see which tools and processes could be developed to replicate in other supply chains. This could also apply to Brands that wish to start integrating more systematically Sustainability in their ingredient portfolio.

For example here few steps that could be taken:

  1. Select pilot supply chains based on your priority or risk based;
  2. Diagnosis of the situation: using your own standard or international sustainable standards of your choice that best suit the supply chain and your outcome expectation;
  3. Think through management tools, existing or to be developed, that could address identified issues in that particular pilot supply chains and that could be easily replicated to your supply chain portfolio;
  4. Establish your strategy taking into account this new knowledge and your outcome expectations.

In the next article I will present cases of Businesses that already have integrated Sustainability in their business and how this has been done. (L’Oréal, Firmenich, MARS Incoporated, etc.)