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The beauty of a framework

Adopting a framework for sustainability at an early stage of your journey gives you a clear advantage over other organisations, where ‘chicken and egg’ battles about whose strategy comes first can quickly hinder any progress in a sustainability agenda. The key here is to engage with a provider who can navigate the nuances of an exec team and design for you a workable sustainability strategy – one that ties in with your CURRENT strategic imperatives and not some future state which is yet to be defined. Equally, your provider should be able to reference your business strategy in their sustainability framework and advise how your organisation can go from strategy to implementation. They should be able to give you options for a quick implementation cycle if you need to phase the work to be done and if they cannot, find a new provider. After all, a phased implementation cycle can demonstrate to your stakeholders that you’ve been kicking a few goals already and that you now plan to improve your overall performance.

Why materiality matters

Materiality assessments are often misconstrued as one of the ‘dark arts’ of sustainability but there is a logical method to understanding what is relevant (i.e. material) to your business – and what is not. Truth be told, these assessments usually fall into one of three camps:

  1. gaining insights from your own people;

  2. conducting a peer/industry review; or

  3. all of the above and asking your stakeholders what they think.

In a perfect world your organisation would aspire to doing all three however, in reality this is not always possible. At the end of the day, do as much as you can with a professional provider to help you decipher the ins and outs of where you should play and what really matters to your organisation, from a sustainability perspective. Applying an external lens can come later but if you choose not to engage your stakeholders, tred carefully, as their viewpoints could be very different to yours - particularly if your business operates in a highly-regulated industry.

Building your brand’s goodness

Can you really build your brand equity through a sustainability action plan? Yes, you can. In contrast to the old view that sustainability would add costs to the bottom line, current evidence suggests the reverse: that an active sustainability positioning reduces costs and premiumises your brand. Today’s consumers are more educated, sophisticated and knowledgeable about sustainability than ever before, so their ability to join the dots and take note of brands #payingitforward is nearly as good as your marketing team’s insights! Consumers have already made the connection that sustainable brands play the long game and are not in it for a quick buck. They know that these brands are worth associating with personally over the long-term. In other words, a brand that successfully crafts their brand positioning around sustainability is unlikely to end up in a discount bin any time soon.

Don’t forget the EVP…

Many organisations focus on making their employees feel good through charitable giving and skilled volunteering. And that’s great. But we’re six months out from the 2020s and our sustainability blinkers need to be peeled away. Why? Because your people (see above consumers) are educated, sophisticated and knowledgeable (you otherwise would not have hired them), so let them deep-dive into your strategy and help develop your sustainability agenda. If you need help retaining your best people, consider giving your top talent a chance to work on a discrete sustainability challenge; or allocate 20% of their time to a sustainability project. What if your business is having trouble attracting talented people? If this is your concern, consider using sustainability as a platform from which you can build up your EVP to appeal to millennials and Gen Z’s - 85% of whom expect their workplace to respond to social and environmental issues.

All this goodness is up for grabs in YOUR industry right now.

Stay tuned for Part 2, where we share with our readers the link between purpose, innovation, industry collaboration and sustainability.

Q Social Impact is a consultancy that delivers sustainability frameworks (for both strategy and implementation), shared value strategies and social impact evaluations.

© Q Social Impact P/L 2019

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