Kickstarting the corporate sustainability journey often begins with fundamental steps like emissions reporting and disclosures, which serve as the bedrock for an organization's commitment to environmental responsibility.
By meticulously measuring and understanding their carbon footprint, companies can establish a baseline for improvement and showcase transparency to stakeholders.
This initial step not only meets regulatory requirements, but even more importantly, sets the stage for a deeper transformation to begin as well.
As companies navigate the landscape of emissions reporting, they gain insights into areas for improvement and innovation.
This knowledge, when strategically leveraged, becomes a catalyst for a broader set of initiatives, whereby organizations integrate a nuanced comprehension of climate-related risks and opportunities into the core of their decision-making processes.
Below, we’ll delve into what it means for sustainability to be approached in a strategic manner, and how this shift can significantly bolster the durability and sustained success of a company.
What do corporate sustainability efforts tend to look like?
The short answer: it depends.
From companies that make sustainability a central pillar of their operations to those that relegate it to mostly compliance-related actions, the approach that businesses adopt varies widely.
A more helpful question, therefore, could be: which path is best suited to nurture a company’s success over the long term?
Viewed from this perspective, it becomes quite evident that companies have substantially better odds of prospering when they incorporate a deep understanding of sustainability into their decision-making procedures, daily routines, and overarching strategic blueprint.
The reason: by recognizing the impact of climate change on their operations, businesses become significantly more aware of and better equipped to mitigate a broad range of climate-related risks that they may encounter.
When is sustainability considered non-strategic?
Sustainability can be categorized as non-strategic, or tactical, when viewed only as a routine obligation, primarily centered around emissions reporting and disclosure.
While the beginning of an organization’s sustainability journey is commonly non-strategic, the significance of this initial step remains incredibly important.
In our view, companies that undertake these efforts deserve a great deal of credit, as it’s these early measures which will ultimately lay the foundation for a gradual transition toward achieving strategic sustainability.
The primary drawback, however, of sustainability being non-strategic lies in its exclusive focus on the present and immediate past, without necessarily prompting companies to look toward the future and evaluate potential risks and opportunities.
As a result, this may leave organizations ill-prepared to adapt to a corporate landscape that’s rapidly changing and evolving in favor of placing a key emphasis on decarbonization.
In short, neglecting the strategic aspect of sustainability can seriously hinder an organization’s long-term competitiveness and resilience in the face of environmental and market shifts.
What does “strategic sustainability” mean?
Conversely, strategic sustainability champions the notion that organizations should embed sustainability into their core planning and decision-making processes.
While it’s certainly not the only metric that’s relied upon when formulating a business strategy, it does hold substantial influence and remains a vital consideration as companies navigate and evaluate their choices across all operational tiers.
Here, sustainability is not merely a checkbox for reporting emissions; it informs and is part of every aspect of an organization.
In terms of why this approach is crucial, the simple answer is that it allows companies to anticipate and plan for the future more cohesively.
By weaving sustainability into the fabric of decision-making and strategy development, businesses can fortify themselves for future outcomes, mitigate risks, and optimize opportunities.
What are the benefits of strategic sustainability?
First, as mentioned above, it enhances an organization’s ability to both forecast and plan for what’s ahead.
If you limit your business assessment in a way that excludes the impact of climate change, there becomes a real danger that you’ll only end up capturing a portion of the overall picture.
In other words, this approach can result in a blind spot that, over time, accumulates an increasing number of risks that may go unnoticed.
Conversely, by integrating a deep awareness of sustainability and the wide-ranging effects of decarbonization on the global economy, organizations can preemptively anticipate market trends, and then adapt their offerings to either strengthen or establish a first-mover advantage.
Next, if we take the very simplistic view that the fundamental purpose of any business is to return value to shareholders, then adopting a stronger commitment to sustainability can prove to be an efficient means of achieving this aim.
For instance, developing substantive initiatives to combat climate change can result in a company advancing its reputation, and subsequently, earning a greater degree of trust from consumers.
Finally, when you take steps to lower your emissions, it often results in a concurrent reduction in your energy consumption. This is quite likely to lead to cost savings, and at the very minimum, a decreased level of exposure to carbon pricing.
What role do CSOs play in the transition to strategic sustainability?
Chief Sustainability Officers are the main catalysts driving the integration of sustainability into an organization's core strategy.
Whether it be in C-suite conversations about the company's direction, evaluating corporate culture, or making a major decision, CSOs ensure that sustainability is an integral component of these discussions.
In terms of the requisite qualifications needed for a CSO to perform their duties efficiently, you can find exceptional CSOs who bring a wide range of experiences, skills, and vantage points to the table.
Regarding commonalities amongst them, at least from our perspective, there are two factors that seem to consistently emerge: a deep level of expertise within at least one domain of sustainability, and a profound commitment to incorporating sustainability within the nexus of a company's operations and decision-making processes.
Reporting and disclosures are unquestionably essential; however, it’s important to remember that they’re the first steps in a company’s sustainability journey, and therefore, it’s imperative for organizations to gradually broaden the scope of their sustainability endeavors to eventually encompass a more extensive range of initiatives.
Given this—and with their expertise, influence, and access to resources—CSOs who adopt sustainability in a strategic manner can have a truly meaningful impact on steering businesses toward a low-carbon trajectory.
Ultimately, by supporting companies in building upon their reporting and disclosures, we can help elevate the role of climate-related risk assessment within corporate sustainability efforts.
To learn more about how we support companies in adopting strategic sustainability, get in touch with our team here.