What is a sustainability strategy?
Derived from ancient Greek, the word strategy refers to a high level plan to achieve a long term goal. If our long term goal is to have zero impact on our climate, how does a sustainability strategy support that?
We need to be clear that the strategic objective will remain the same but the actions we take along the way may change as conditions change. Our strategy must include processes that allow us to spot and react to changing conditions. And if things are going to change we need someone to be in charge and lead us through. So first up on the strategy must have list is ownership. Who owns this and makes sure it is on track? As with any issue, the higher up the organisation the owner, the more likely it is that the strategy will get the resources it needs to succeed. But remember, with senior support comes visibility and expectation – the strategy must deliver and be seen to be doing so.
The owner is just one stakeholder. The next must have is to ensure the needs and wants of all stakeholders are included in the strategy. This can be an informal gathering of opinions but is best done in the form of a materiality assessment using quantitative data collection and/or stakeholder workshops. As the main objective is to achieve climate neutrality, detailed insights from a comprehensive Scope 1, 2 and 3 carbon footprint will be used here. The outputs of the footprint and workshops will tell you where the strategy needs to focus and will help with informing the next must have – target setting and reporting.
Targets and reporting
This is often best thought about with the end in mind. What do we need/want to report (combining mandatory reporting and progress against targets for the material issues) and therefore what data must we collect? Having a clear strategy with a clear set of priorities will allow the reporting process to be both streamlined and effective. All too often we see sustainability teams spending months gathering data in order to produce annual reports, respond to investor related questionnaires such as CDP and GRI and submit compliance data for schemes such as CRC. These data gathering exercises can be time consuming and lengthy. With a clear strategy, reporting framework and data collection plan the pain can be reduced, allowing sustainability professionals to get on with the day job of improving performance.
And that brings us to the last must have – performance improvement. The strategy should drive performance towards the overall objective. This will require stakeholders to develop tactical plans to invest in improvements and to track progress. As we’ve acknowledged, conditions, both external and internal, change over time so our strategy must include processes for reviewing assumptions and adjusting direction. A clear strategic aim and structure will allow agility when it comes to changing targets, material issues, reporting channels, timescales or team members and owners.