Capitalism with a conscience

Buy, consume, dispose – such is the widely accepted framework that we consumers accept and operate within.  But turning this framework on its head is a steadily growing, global movement known as “collaborative consumption”.

 

Also known as the “sharing economy”, a business operating within this movement does not sell a product or service, but instead provides a framework that allows mutually beneficial “sharing” or “exchanging” to take place among individuals.  Collaborative consumption businesses make use of the increased connectivity provided by the online world, creating opportunities between people that would otherwise have been missed or wasted.

End-of-life warranty

 

Sustainability strategy is becoming more innovative as supply chain issues become more apparent. It is important to consider potential second (and third, fourth and so on) lives for products – recycling is one thing, but designing products so that they are reusable or easily able to be repurposed is even more responsible.

                   

The ‘cradle to cradle’ view of a product’s life-cycle has emerged, seeing companies working with suppliers throughout the chain to ensure a life to their products and packaging beyond their primary use. An obvious way forward is proper recycling, however this requires behaviour change from companies, suppliers and consumers alike and so poses a challenge. 

Your sustainability strategy: 5 layers from vision to action

 

What makes a good sustainability strategy?

 

Our last two posts: The first step in developing a sustainability strategy that means something and What is impact measurement? will help you understand the importance of developing your business’ sustainability vision from the get-go. Having clear goals will help you to plan your strategy efficiently and determine what to measure, which will result in a better understanding and ability to communicate social, economic and environmental impacts. It’s these impacts that really mean something to your stakeholders.

 

A question we hear come up all the time is ‘how do I get started?’

 

If you are just starting out, it’s important to get the steps right in developing your strategy, as each step is nothing without the others.

 

 

Vision

 

Start with your sustainability vision. Look into your crystal ball and imagine the ideal scenario for your company in the future. Better yet, look into some other people’s crystal balls. Talking to your investors, suppliers, local government, employees and other stakeholders will shine a light on your company from the outside in and help you to consider your activities with fresh eyes and an open mind.

 

This one is important to get right, and should be in line with your wider business strategy.

 

 

Goals

 

These address your material issues. Your material issues are the things that are most important to your stakeholders. It’s very difficult to set goals without a vision!

 

 

Objectives

 

Objectives are what you actually want to achieve to reach your goals – these need to be specific and measurable and they will lack focus without goals in place.

 

 

Targets

 

These are the numbers representing how you will measure your performance, which is essentially measuring your objectives. You can’t set targets without objectives to measure.

 

 

Actions

 

These are the actual tasks that you will need to undertake to meet your targets. The impacts of your actions will be unknown unless you measure your performance against your targets.

 

 

To help you through the process of developing your vision, goals and objectives check out our free to download Groundwork Guidebook. The book will help you set your sustainability strategy in just one day.

 

 

 

The first step in developing a sustainability strategy that means something

 

An increasing number of organisations are realising the importance of measuring environmental and social impacts of their business.

 

Maybe you are, too? Maybe you have already begun the process by conducting a carbon audit? If so, has this been useful to you? Or do you now have a bunch of numbers that you aren’t sure what to do with?

 

Before you approach the task of measuring your impacts, it’s important to take time to understand what is relevant to your organisation so that the indicators you choose to measure are clearly integrated into your sustainability strategy. The results of a carbon audit will give an organisation a number of tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent emissions that they release each year. Many organisations are given this figure after paying an auditor thousands of dollars, but are left thinking ‘so what?’ or ‘what next?’ because the audit results are irrelevant to the day-to-day operations of the company.

What is impact measurement?

 

It’s easy to see how measurement of the impacts of your business will give you information that enables you to look back to evaluate your progress. But it also helps you look forward for more effective planning and program management; motivates you to pay better attention to the social, environmental and economic value that the business creates; and helps you to communicate this value to your people and your key stakeholders.

 

In order to demonstrate what we mean by impact measurement, lets explore the different types of measurement.

  

Financial measurement

 

Financial measurement is the form of measurement that every business is involved in via accounting and the associated reporting. Every key decision that is made in business requires the use of financial measurement to aid the decision making process.

 

 

 

Environmental impact measurement

 

Every company has some form of impact on the environment, even if it is simply via the purchase of electricity, the use of water, or the amount of frequent flyer miles that employees rack up. With many businesses, their largest impact is not a result of their direct operations but rather via their suppliers and the manufacture of their products.

 

There is a growing requirement for businesses to report on their impacts and show how they are actively working to reduce any harmful effects of their operations. A business must measure its environmental impact in order to make informed decisions about what changes to implement so as to improve the environmental sustainability of what they do.

 

 

 

Social impact measurement

 

In contrast to environmental impacts, social impact measurement is about measuring and demonstrating the positive impacts or improvements that the business has created via its operations, in terms of social wellbeing and quality of life. Social impacts can range from the investment in promoting happy, healthy and productive workforces (internally and externally, i.e. with supplier workforces also) to the positive influence a business has within the wider community in which is operates.

 

An external consultant is able to look at a business and see the impact it is having on the environment and therefore recommend what should be measured. However, deciding what social indicators should be measured is something the business must take care to integrate with its vision, goals and objectives.

 

 

 

Now, the how …

 

In some instances social impact measurement is likely to be more ambiguous because it relates to longer-term goals, therefore data availability and collection will likely be more challenging. However, knowing what information you want or the indicators you wish to measure at the outset will increase the likelihood that proper measuring processes are put in place as part of your project design – this will make your long-term measurements much less of a headache.

 

For example, a sustainability goal might be to achieve a workplace with zero-discrimination.  

 

Measuring the success of this goal may not be achievable for five to ten years and should include a mix of qualitative and quantitative measures. Some of them will be in your control to measure and some of them may need external help. Indicators may include a higher respect for the company among the community it operates in, a higher level of employee engagement in cultural activities outside of the work environment, and more diversity in both your employees and your customers.

 

However in the short term you can also measure more direct outcomes of your actions. For example, you might be measuring the number of reported workplace discrimination incidents, the percentage of women in management and leadership positions, the value of donations given to local cultural programmes, or the results of a yearly employee satisfaction survey, and so forth.

 

 

Good measurement is a key success factor for your sustainability program. Measurement provides:

 

  • A common and comparable approach to analysing changes over time
  • A framework by which to communicate your performance
  • An increased likelihood that your impacts will be replicated both within your organisation and by others following what you are doing

 

With proper planning and the development of a robust and relevant sustainability strategy, measurement does not have to be the daunting task that it may appear to be. When there is a purpose and understanding as to why data should be collected, the process is much less painful.

 

 

Impact Sustainability provides sustainability strategy workshops and measurement solutions via our advanced sustainability performance management software.