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Six ‘simple’ steps to starting out in business sustainability

I’ve been spending some time working with companies who are either just getting started, or just starting to think a little more strategically, about CSR/sustainability/corporate responsibility in the last year or two.

Here are six steps I advised some of them to take.

This is no guarantee of anything, and I know there are lots of other experts out there who might easily point to what is missing from this list.

But here’s a few ideas on how to get started, let’s say if you have just been given CSR/sustainability as a responsibility and want to get moving on the topic internally:

1) Have a benchmarking study done (10-20 pages) either on your business and sustainability risk/opportunity, or on where your nearest equivalent businesses are. Ideally you’d do both.

From that you can create a one pager/two pager for the CEO and board to understand where they sit, and what ambitious plans can look like. (disclosure: this is something I do with clients via my Stakeholder Intelligence business)

2) Have the CEO/board state the company mission is to be the sector/regional sustainability leader.

3) Use that support to set up functional working groups and get them to set ambitious targets using the CEO/board support to push them where needed. A separate board champion may help if that’s possible. (I sometimes facilitate these internal group meetings)

4) Take the functional working group targets and create a unified sustainability strategy for the company, from top down and bottom up, give it a name that sticks.

5) Publish an ambitious sustainability strategy with targets and the name/paradigm based on this. Have both 2015 and 2020 targets, plus long term aims. Include sustainability in Vision, Mission, Values of the company. If possible in the articles of association of the firm. Work with various functions across the business to embed this into function responsibilities and department targets. This would also include internal and external communications and stakeholder engagement outreach, where appropriate.

6) Work privately, or publish later/at the same time, on roles for the board to support the strategy: Base them on different board member interests and use those to drive / embed sustainability into the business long term. Make them both internal and external roles to support your work/the sustainability strategy and internal/external communications efforts.

There’s a lot more companies can, and do already do, beyond this. But this is a ‘simple’ process that I have seen work, alongside really quite in-depth employee, community and supplier engagement programmes of course.