Sustainability is the topic of our time – a megatrend that will occupy us for decades to come. These days, sustainability stands for much more than the mere combination of ecology, the economy and social issues. The so-called triple bottom line (i.e. people, planet, profit) has been further developed by its founder John Elkington towards a regenerative economy. Sustainability thus stands for a new way of doing business. It stands for an economy that is in harmony with both nature and people. An economy that is fit for the future or, as they say, an economy fit for our grandchildren. An economy by the people for the people on a healthy planet.
Since we haven’t had a healthy planet for a long time and we’re living at the expense of the natural world – even though we know better – we really need to apply this regenerative approach. We need systems that are less about preserving what is there. Rather, they should be more about regenerative management and restoring the balance. Persuasive models already exist, such as doughnut economics and the principle of planetary boundaries that show the conditions under which we have to run the economy today.
Companies play a decisive role in the implementing measures to ensure sustainability. While politics must consistently drive forward the necessary framework conditions such as regulatory requirements and pricing in environmental costs (i.e. true prices), companies should initiate measures early on, independent of any regulation, and seize the issue of sustainability as an opportunity for their own company.
Firms are also increasingly being confronted with the demands of various stakeholder groups, who are clamouring for sustainability – be it current or future employees, society, business partners and suppliers and, above all, customers.
It is obvious to many companies today that they have to reposition themselves; the big question is HOW.
The HOW starts with the development of a sustainability strategy. It is the link between all stakeholders such as customers, employees, investors and the like, and it is shaped by a common understanding and the company’s own vision of sustainability. That is why it is unique for every company, creates identity and is not interchangeable.
A sustainability strategy provides answers to the following questions, among others:
The basis of such a sustainability strategy is an inventory. What are we already doing? Where do we want to go? What ideas do we have? This can be worked out in the form of workshops with the staff. Here, the identification of successes also directly ensures that sustainability is positively anchored in the company. Based on this status quo, a strategic goal is then developed. The questions to be asked are always these: What position are we striving for among our competitors? What do we want to do to achieve this? And how does sustainability fit into this? The aim is for sustainability to be so deeply anchored in the company that it is taken into consideration in every decision as a matter of course and isn’t seen an additional burden. Examples include integrating sustainability into central topics such as project guidelines, organisational manuals, travel guidelines, purchasing guidelines, etc.
This is then followed by applying so-called quick wins and lighthouse projects, i.e. goals that are easy to implement and that help to motivate the employees to get on board the issue of sustainability. If the employees are not all on board, the implementation of the measures will be extremely tough, because, with their ideas and personal commitment, they are what drive the issue forward. Sustainability as a principle of action takes effect precisely when employees are interested in the company, its success and its future viability.
The path to becoming a sustainable company requires a clear decision to align one’s own core business with the issue of sustainability. Of course, this also brings with it challenges – otherwise many companies would already be further along the path. It’s vital that you get started quickly and start implementing measures fast. Otherwise you will get stuck in formulating the strategy.
Moreover, sustainability is already a question of survival for many today, no matter whether it relates to energy/heating costs, costs for CO2 management or the shortage of skilled workers; the question is not IF, but HOW. Sustainability needs a “get up and go mentality” and courage.
Sustainability also needs to be linked to innovation and digitalisation. Everything that will be done in the company in the future, all the processes and structures, should be digital, innovative and sustainable. This is a big ask, which, today, still often places very heavy demands on everyone involved.
Sustainability isn’t something that happens overnight. Rather, it requires a master plan and a roadmap that is actively managed by someone in overall charge. A powerful culture of sustainability that is close to the heart of the management can help here.
UNO INO eG
UNO INO eG is a consultancy for new and sustainable management. With the aim of anchoring sustainability in the core business and parameters of companies, organisations and society, the cooperative supports companies on their way to becoming sustainable. For more information on UNO INO eG and how to implement sustainability strategies, please click here or contact email@example.com personally if you have any questions.
About the author:
Anita Merzbacher has a degree in business informatics and is a sustainable business transformation manager. She has been working as a management consultant, organisational developer and business coach for over 20 years. The core issue of her work is corporate sustainability.
“How can companies position themselves to do business in a sustainable way?” In 2020, she initiated the UNO INO eG network. Sustainability is her personal lodestar and her personal “why”.