“Encourage employees to select greener suppliers to reduce the overall burden your products and services have on our planet.”
Large companies and organisations including KPMG Australia and The Australasian Centre for Corporate Responsibility have been making good on their recent commitment to corporate citizenship by dedicating resources to help the globe overcome some of its most pressing challenges.
Sustainability has been among these key areas of focus, leading to environmentally friendly corporate initiatives from Apple’s commitment to closed-loop supply chains to Patagonia’s next-generation responsible business venture capital arm.
While it’s crucial for these organisations to make top-down commitments to sustainability, business units, groups, and individual teams within them can also take their own steps in playing a pivotal role in sustainability in the new normal.
1. Commit your team to your corporate purpose
At the corporate level, a clear statement of purpose from executive leadership has become a critical tool in supporting sustainability. Unit and team managers can use the same concept to empower their employees to act.
“This process of defining purpose makes it clear that businesses exist to serve society and not the other way round, and the link to sustainability becomes clear,” University of Pittsburgh School of Business professor CB Bhattacharya wrote in an article for the World Economic Forum.
Bhattacharya recommends that companies bring their purpose to life in the pandemic era by pursuing concrete sustainability goals and focusing on a few material areas.
Unit managers can follow up on that commitment by asking:
- What new sustainability developments will impact our products’ demand and the supply of our materials?
- What type of sustainability do stakeholders expect from our business?
By adding a sustainability variable to the business unit decision-making equation, middle management can help make good on big corporate promises.
One way to do this is to evaluate your immediate team’s carbon footprint. Although you might have policies in place already, the application may need some ground-level execution. You can start by examining how your electricity, gas emissions output, and water intake were measured in the past and consider re-measuring with a new reduction target in mind.
Encourage your senior leaders to reiterate your corporate purpose, sustainability objectives and reduction targets to all constituents, but especially the employees implementing them “on the ground.
2. Empower your employees
Getting employees to buy into sustainability measures is critical. Motivate your employees — and build enthusiasm for your efforts — by explaining why sustainable business practices benefit everyone. Tell them how they can make a difference by incorporating these new processes into daily operations.
Empowering your team requires communication. It’s something the leadership team at major home health product manufacturer Sunstar learned first-hand during COVID-19.
“The pandemic developed with unprecedented speed, and the amount of information created confusion,” says Julia Linz, senior director of HR at Sunstar. “We tried to provide regular and clear communication to our employees — especially when conveying tough messages.”
- EY’s corporate responsibility program, EY Ripples, accessible for all employees, is anchored in a long-term goal to positively impact one billion lives by 2030. The program focuses on the skills and experience of employees in three areas:
- Supporting young and underserved people to develop the mindsets and necessary skills
- Helping scale small and growing businesses that purposefully drive progress toward the Sustainable Development Goals
- Accelerating environmental sustainability by adopting behaviours, technologies and business models that protect and regenerate the environment while unlocking economic opportunity.
Businesses can also encourage employees or teammates to brainstorm and implement new ideas that serve customers in a more environmentally friendly manner or generally make the office a greener space.
- Using electronic file sharing to reduce paper and ink cartridge use.
- Reusable coffee cups and water bottles (when it is safe to do so and in line with COVID-19 guidelines).
- Bringing plants into work to recycle stale air.
Additionally, new items should be made from and shipped with environmentally friendly packaging, using as few boxes as possible. Even choosing a greener company for daily take away can make a difference.
Since most Australian businesses now offer the option to work from home and the office, there are also ways companies can prompt employees to be sustainable at home.
Employees can save energy and electricity by heating and air conditioning their homes sparingly and turning off lights and devices when not in use.
3. Reconsider your supply chains
During COVID-19, many with purchasing responsibilities have shifted policies and vendor selection criteria, including caring for the vendors in their supply chains by shortening payment terms and ordering extra inventory.
As you make changes like this, you might also select greener suppliers to reduce your products and services’ overall burden on the planet.
Supply chains can be an excellent place to improve a business’ sustainability, according to an April 2020 Bain & Company’s Sustainability and Corporate Responsibility white paper.
“Shifting to near-shore or onshore production and shorter supply chains will reduce emissions. Manufacturing pollution levels will drop as new sites comply with environmental policies, leveraging new technologies to be more efficient,” the paper stated.
“As these moves are made, businesses can take advantage of stimulus money tied to environmental efforts and make supply chains more resilient to disruption in the future.”
Sustainability will play a leading role in future adverse events. You can better prepare for the next disruption by reassessing your environmental footprint and making changes today.