The Sustainability quest: The big questions and some answers about everyone’s new cup of tea

Now that everyone is speaking about low carbon footprint, organic food, hydrogen, equality labour rights, conservation, and a long etcetera, corporations should be rethinking if their sustainability efforts and strategies are effective, besides being good ideas or projects.

Even if you think that you are nice person doing something good for the planet and your society, the challenges that we are now facing should make you question how things are being done. For example, just solving the mix climate change at its peak plus Covid-19 pandemic plus social-economic inequality is already a complicated riddle (If there is a God -or Goddess- now is the time to come in our help!).

Back to our business, think for a moment in these questions:

  • How are organizations measuring “commitment” in their corporate volunteer programs? How involved are employees?
  • Do communities are engaged and understand the relevance of social investment strategies? Are they even involved during the designing of the strategy?
  • How “organic” are relations between Environmental programs and Social impact departments in your company?
  • The G on ESG is about Governance: A big word for big corporations?
  • Do banks and auditors ask a hell a lot of questions? Are you fully understanding their worries?
  • Does anyone know how to put together the year results? Is anyone proficient enough to outline KPI and metrics?

At Alterpraxis we have been lucky enough to be involved with some very big industry, energy projects, handling complex issues for clients, and hopefully being humble enough to learn something from our war stories.

That said, here are some insights that now we know are paramount to tackle the Sustainability quest:

  1. Know the context: there is no action plan or strategy without a Baseline. First, you must understand your company’s materiality: all the externalities and effects that the mere existence of the organization outcomes (the good, the bad and the ugly – specially the ugly). Second, a fully understanding of the context: environment, social-cultural, political landscape, economics, diversity and equal opportunity, gender perspective, labour-union relations, stakeholders’ engagement. Third, how the materiality and context play along? That’s the quid of everything: being fully aware of that is the path of sustainability.
  2. Feel the field: you must live the real world. Decision making process from the top of that fancy corporate building is the easy part, really understanding how people, communities, local governments, and nature’s services are linked, and really live it is the only way a corporate strategy will be successful. Don’t be a tourist, don’t quit the office: just endeavour into how decisions really affect the world (your context, at least).
  3. From CSR to fully sustainable: Everyone wants to be the nice guy/gal. “Of course, my company is a very committed one, don’t you see all the good stuff we made on behalf of the blind”. Sure, but is that aligned with anything? Corporations should tackle and mitigate all the externalities that operations generate and boost neighbouring communities. The only way this could be meaningful is when materiality analysis becomes relevant: the company starts taking care of the whole global “sustainable ecosystem”. From how operations are done, to relevant actions, to reporting accordingly. A great start: align your ESG strategies with global standards, especially with UN’s Sustainable Development Goals.
  4. Management and budgeting: good ideas should be funded with real money, real human resources, and backed by top management. For the newbies, endeavouring into a sustainability strategy is always risky and frightening. These issues are not about the stubborn ESG people making trouble, is about all the company: From the C-suite’s offices, to the Community Liaison, to the supply chain; ensuring that everyone knows their part in this play its paramount. Sustainability is an organizational endeavour, so management is a must.
  5. Who is your audience? It is important to communicate both internally and externally, engagement should be permanent, not just because you are a show-off, but because opportunities could arise on every spot that can expand the strategy, or improve it: a new ally, strength your capabilities, ad new resources, recognition from your peers. Nowadays, more and more companies are joining the generation of sustainability strategies and it is important to be at the forefront and willing to share and learn from other experiences.
  6. Know your standards: how are you measuring? You might not know how to land your KPIs board. First, outline the basic ESG goals (always related to the materiality analysis). Second, bring together the most relevant company’s department and define goals. Third, this is easier to say than done: draft your KPIs, start form the very basics so you can move from there to a more complex ground. Fourth, read and learn: there is a whole ecosystem from where you can start: SDG, Equator Principles, IFC performance standards, GRI standards, JICA guidelines, ISO. Fifth, understand this: compliance is king and the guiding principle for a successful Sustainability strategy.

 

 

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