CB’s Three-Phase Path to Sustainability Ownership
Develop the domain of sustainability you want to own by marking the contours of your company’s specific purpose in the world. Then make this purpose concrete by translating it into measurable goals.
Contour: Contour the sustainability domain by deciding what your company is taking ownership of. Answer fundamental questions about the purpose of your business. Who are we? Why do we do what we do? Why should we take ownership of sustainability now? Articulate how the firm adds or creates value beyond shareholders’ pockets; define your company in terms of the society it both emanates from and serves.
Concretize: Concretize your goals by answering the following questions. Where is growth likely to come from in the future? How will mega trends like climate change come to affect our business? How big is our ecological footprint and what are its main contributors? What do our stakeholders want? Generate a list of material issues across your entire value chain and prioritize them by biggest potential impact.
Entice and enable stakeholders to take ownership of your plan by giving them the opportunity to participate in, understand, and identify with sustainability.
Entice: Entice stakeholders to own sustainability by selling it as an opportunity to contribute to the future well-being of the company. Figure out how and why your stakeholders respond to change. Sometimes you will need to appeal to the head, other times to the heart, and often both. Entice your employees, and other internal and external stakeholders, including board members, your supply chain, your community members, and even consumers, to get off the sidelines and become owners.
Enable: Enable ownership by putting systems, structures, and training in place that lower the costs and increase the benefits of acting sustainably. Give your stakeholders the tools, confidence, and freedom they need to contribute to sustainability goals. Set strict requirements but give your stakeholders the flexibility to decide how they go about solving problems. In a word, make sustainability everybody’s job.
Maintain sustainability’s momentum and integrity by demystifying stakeholders’ contributions, and enlivening and expanding the ownership experience. When sustainability is entrenched in a company, it is so firmly established in its ethos that it is difficult if not impossible to act unsustainably.
Demystify: Demystify stakeholders’ contributions to the achievement of sustainability targets and show the connections between these goals and the purpose of their jobs and the company. Measure key performance indicators and provide ongoing feedback on sustainability targets. This gives stakeholders the opportunity to learn how sustainability works and how they contribute to achieving goals.
Enliven: Enliven sustainability ownership by developing initiatives, events, and practices that keep it fresh and relevant and maintain the initial excitement and belief. Nip entropic tendencies in the bud; create a strong and vibrant sustainability culture by committing to “the three Cs”: co-creation, communication, celebration.
Expand: Expand feelings of ownership by building broader industry collaborations. These are required to solve complex supply chain and distribution challenges and drive systemic change. This step is necessary to create the really big changes that our planet and its people need – and that businesses need, too.
ESMT Sustainable Business Roundtable
CB founded the European School of Management and Technology Sustainable Business Roundtable, a forum with more than 25 multinational members, aimed at discussing opportunities and challenges in mainstreaming sustainability practices within organizations.