How do I build a business case that will kick start sustainability in my business?

Published 12th July 2016 by Lucy Haines

When discussing strategy and sustainability there is, I think, a danger of lapsing into what one of my colleagues affectionately calls “management dude speak”. However, done well, a strategic approach should help manage risks and make the most of opportunities. Here we expand on some of these themes and whilst aiming to keep the dude speak to a minimum!

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  1. Benchmarking – defining your company against others in the market

When we talk about benchmarking we’re really trying to find out how the organisation compares to other similar organisations. One of the first questions we ask our clients is who do you compare yourself against? An easy choice if you have a small number of direct competitors but if your products, services or operating model are unique, who do you choose?

It’s sometimes more useful to think in terms of peers rather than competitors. Your peers may be organisations of similar size, they may operate in similar markets or even share values or operating principles. Ultimately they should be those organisations you wish to be compared against and viewed alongside.

Benchmark information is often very important in getting attention from Senior Executives. The attention is important as that group often hold the key to success for any sustainability programme, and their buy in will provide support, focus, drive and most importantly resources. Engaging the senior team should be done early on but not so early that they are presented with woolly or unformed ideas. Experience suggests that as intelligent, experienced individuals, Executive teams, for the most part, understand this type of strategic approach. What they need to know is how it impacts their organisation, what the risks and opportunities are and how a strategy will work in practise.  

  1. From workshops to working plan

Once the scene is set and the grown-ups are on board, it’s time to bring the analysis together with the relevant interested parties and come up with a plan. Workshops, if done well, are great ways of building consensus, gaining buy in and forming a clear agenda and task list to work from. Done badly they are unfocused talking shops that will turn people off to what you are trying to achieve. Having a clear view on what a good outcome looks like is important. As with many things in management, starting with the end in mind is key.

  1. Defining an intelligent sustainability strategy that’s material

Sustainability is a big subject area. A co-ordinated programme is an excellent way of bringing activity under one framework, capturing current activity and providing direction for future programmes. Done well it defines the reporting outputs which make the value tangible to the inside and outside worlds.

But, there is a danger of including too much under the sustainability umbrella and not providing the strategy with the focus needed to have real impact. Understanding what’s important (and why) through a formal process of assessing materiality (possibly dude speak but you can forgive me on this one I hope?) will help prioritise effort and investment and make messaging the results clear. Setting tangible outcomes as part of the first set of priorities helps towards long term focus. And the long term is important, as the programme will evolve as issues are addressed and new material issues arise.

Find out more about the next step towards intelligent sustainability in our next blog – How do I report information that meets stakeholder needs? 

5 Steps Towards Intelligent Sustainability | Download Our eBook Here

Photo by @BarnImages

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