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How to create a sustainability culture?

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Shreya has been with londonbusinessblog.com for 3 years, writing copy for client websites, blog posts, EDMs and other mediums to engage readers and encourage action. By collaborating with clients, our SEO manager and the wider londonbusinessblog.com team, Shreya seeks to understand an audience before creating memorable, persuasive copy.

Jeff is CEO and board member at JMJa global culture transformation consultancy headquartered in Austin, Texas.

As business leaders, we all feel the internal and external pressure to deliver on our corporate sustainability strategies. I’ve been in business long enough to know that these kinds of organizational shifts rarely happen without a culture change. Take security for example, not so long ago it was seen as a department role, something done to people rather than for or with them. Sustainability is in many ways the new safety; everyone is talking about it, we know we need to do something about it, want to do something about it – we’re just not always sure what that something is.

Leaders must lead, but culture must also change

In their own words, leaders do not always have the know-how to bring about lasting change. Turning a shiny strategy report or bold mission statement into a set of values ​​that everyone from the board to your newest recruit can stand behind is no small task.

Convince the company

Mark Carney, former Governor of the Bank of England, described the transition economy as “the greatest commercial opportunity of our time.” So why do many of us find it difficult to make the business case for pursuing a sustainable future? Can sustainability and profitability coexist, or are they mutually exclusive?

Behind the rhetoric and good intentions lies a cold, harsh reality: companies exist to make a profit. It follows that the best way to convince your board to take sustainability seriously is to prepare a financial business case. This could mean linking sustainable actions to profits and future-proofing the company, highlighting the link between ESG ratings and investment capital or its ability to attract new talent. According to a 2021 study by global sustainability advisor Anthesis, 53% of the UK workforce said sustainability is a major factor in choosing a company to work for, with a 67% rate among Gen Zs.

The bottom line is that if companies fail to become more sustainable, they are worth less to investors, less attractive for people to work for and with, and less commercially viable.

Convince your people

Designing a sustainability strategy is one thing; creating a sustainability culture is quite another. But to succeed, the two must go hand in hand. Of course, leadership sets the transformation agenda, but real change will not happen without the support of all your people.

Change is not easy or fast. As leaders, it’s up to us to find practical ways to make sustainability an integral part of the company’s structure and operation.

Here are six practical steps leaders can take now to help people transition to more sustainable practices:

1. Make the business case. Instead of focusing on the short-term financial consequences, consider the long-term consequences of failure. How will your organization be affected in terms of reputation, ability to attract talent and clients and, ultimately, how will your actions (or inaction) affect the future of our planet now?

2. Measure your sustainability maturity. Conduct a sustainability culture assessment to understand how people in your organization view leadership commitment and their own role in delivering on the company’s sustainability promise. People can spot a counterfeit, so leaders must act with conviction.

3. Communicate openly and transparently. Authentic faith and commitment from senior leaders are critical if you want others to deliver on your sustainability promises. At the same time, leaders who don’t know what they want to achieve are a barrier to the company’s sustainability success.

4. Address people’s concerns. The operations department probably wonders if the supply chain will change, business development wonders how customers will respond and senior leaders want to learn more about controlling costs and avoiding government fines. To succeed, you need a shared vision and path forward in a culture where everyone knows their concerns are being heard and action is being taken.

5. Create leaders throughout your organization. Recruit other passionate individuals from across the company as sustainability evangelists. They can communicate the goals and drivers of the organization in a way that senior management never could.

6. Set durability goals. Everyone across the organization, from the boardroom to entry-level employees, plays a role in your sustainability agenda, so everyone should have goals to meet. This could be as simple as encouraging carpooling, implementing recycling, or thinking more deeply about how and why people travel for work.

The future starts now

While different industries, sectors, national cultures and business models will inevitably have different goals, perspectives and even definitions of sustainability, there’s no escaping the fact that leaders need to go the extra mile and define the culture. If your goal is to adopt sustainability as a value, there are undoubtedly lessons to be learned from how best safety cultures and practices have evolved. Sustainability may once have been a ‘nice to do’ for global players, but it has become a ‘must’. The price of failure none of us is willing to pay.


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