For a long time, sustainability has been seen as the cherry on the cake for companies, but is it still the case in 2022?
A 5th planetary boundary has been crossed; the EU is developing more and more Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) regulations; Demand for green certifications is going through the roof; Taxonomy, CSRD, Green deal, Carbon Footprint, LCA… are the buzz words of the past few years…
So, let’s face it, sustainability is clearly becoming a must-have for companies. This constitutes great news for the planet on the one hand but causes a lot of stress on the other hand for business owners, boards, and many others.
This article aims to guide you through the different steps to best integrate sustainability into your strategy and to become a green changemaker.
Sustainability includes how you run your business, and my bottom line includes how you treat your people. Sustainability starts with your staff.Tom Douglas
What Are Sustainability and Sustainable Development?
Sustainability is a comprehensive approach that recognizes that ecological, social, and economic dimensions must be considered to create lasting prosperity by meeting our own needs without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs. Those are the three pillars of sustainable development, which are commonly called the 3 Ps.
Who is Responsible for it?
More and more individuals, groups, and communities are working on sustainability, and they are willing to create solutions. In Belgium, as in many other European countries, regulations and action plans are developed to switch towards a more sustainable economic model, using as a reference: the EU Green deal or the EU Zero Pollution action plan.
But now, how could we integrate those sustainable directives within the business world? And maybe even switch from legal conformity to real commitment?
How Can a Company Integrate Sustainability?
To have a lean approach towards sustainability, we would like to tackle this using the DMAIC methodology (Define – Measure – Analyze – Improve – Control).
- Define the problem and the legal requirements
The first step is to identify the problem for you, your customers, the regulators, or the environment.
This type of journey can start for many reasons:
- Your customers are asking for more sustainable products.
- Your employees are asking for better working conditions.
- Your community is complaining about the impact of your operations on their everyday life.
- Your management is receiving a lot of pressure from local governments related to new regulations.
- You are aware that your processes are putting pressure on your ecosystem.
Considering all this, it’s easy to get lost on what is the problem and what should be evaluated.
That’s why some tools such as the UN Sustainable development Goals (17 SDG goals to end poverty, protect the planet, and ensure prosperity for all) or the EU taxonomy for sustainable activities are key to help you to identify metrics, to define what a sustainable economy looks like and to identify the gaps with your operations.
You can integrate your metrics and your specific issues into your Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) strategy, which is considering how companies manage the business processes to produce an overall positive impact on society.
- Measure your externalities
As you can’t improve what you don’t measure, the second step is to evaluate what’s coming in and out of your processes.
Therefore, once you have aligned on metrics, it is important:
- To invest in impact/performance measurement tools, such as self-assessment forms or carbon footprint calculators.
- To implement reporting frameworks including metric-based data specific to the defined objective, such as the EU Corporate Sustainability Reporting Directive (CSRD).
This brand-new EU directive, becoming a legal requirement from 1 January 2024, could help you to understand the best way to report on your activities and to finally be able to make an inventory of your externalities.
- Analyze your internal process and its impact
With the support of the Value Stream Mapping (or VSMc), you can understand what’s inside your process and what drives its environmental impact.
By analyzing in detail, the life cycle of your product or your process (LCA), it will be a great opportunity to assess your impact thanks to an activity-Based Footprinting method, but also the effectiveness of potential initiatives towards the sustainable goals you are aiming to achieve.
This third step of assessment and interpretation is fundamental to set improvement targets (for instance, in partnership with Science-Based Targets), align on different sustainability tools which can be operated to achieve the same sustainability outcomes, and build a roadmap towards sustainable operational excellence.
The fourth step is to convert the sustainable operational excellence roadmap into concrete practices.
The range of actions in the supply chain, the operations, the back office… is broad, mainly varies from one industry to another, and is often underestimated (or even still considered as a cost), but it doesn’t mean that the potential of actions isn’t enormous.
Fortunately, some companies are realizing the hidden values behind it and start seeking innovation in those different areas:
- Waste hunting, using lean six sigma principles
- Production management
- Products development
- Logistics management, including reverse and outbound logistics
- Energy production
- Industrial symbiosis with your partners
- Sustainable supply chain and procurement, e.g., circular use of raw materials or Sustainable Procurement Policy towards suppliers
During the implementation of this type of initiative, it is primordial to make sure that change management is considered and that the employees are ready for this cultural shift towards more sustainable processes.
- Control the efficiency and monitor your strategy
At this fifth stage, you can use the identified metrics to measure your performance and demonstrate your impact. To be able to benchmark your improvements and to be recognized for it, certifications and labels will be of great help. They allow you to measure your performance, demonstrate impact, and make sure you collaborate with the right partners as well.
Once you are recognized for your involvement, you can also integrate standards and norms within your company towards your employees, your suppliers, your services providers, and other stakeholders to make sure you sustain your efforts in the long run.
In a nutshell, it’s sometimes hard to find your way towards sustainability, but the good news is: you are not alone! So, let’s work together to build the sustainable, circular, and waste-free world of tomorrow.