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Here are 3 ways to cultivate your sustainability culture

Jun 11, 2024 | Public | 0 comments

This is part of a series about how companies can integrate sustainability into their core business strategies. The previous articles in the series describe how to assess your company’s sustainability strategy, identify material ESG factors and stakeholders, develop your company’s business strategy, and make the internal business case for sustainability investment. This article describes how to develop a culture that will support the implementation of your business strategy. 

To embed sustainability, your culture should embrace sustainability. Corporate culture is shaped by a clear vision, mission, purpose and shared values, and it is supported by employee policies and practices that mirror and reinforce these values, shaping how employees work, make decisions and treat one another. You may be thinking, “My role doesn’t directly control culture,” but there is a lot that you can do to influence it. Let’s look at how to create a culture that supports sustainability.

Step 1: Embed sustainability in your vision, mission and values

As part of a culture update, your company’s vision, which is its aspirational ideal for the next 10-15 years, should include a sustainable future. McCormick & Co., a global spice and flavor company, articulates its vision as “A World United by Flavor — where healthy, sustainable and delicious go hand in hand.” This vision underscores a goal of achieving harmony across the three elements. The mission, in turn, should be the roadmap for how the company aims to achieve its vision. Your company’s values should create an environment where employees are encouraged to prioritize sustainability goals alongside financial goals. Its purpose should act as a strong motivator for employee engagement in sustainability. In 2018, Patagonia changed its mission statement from “Build the best product, cause no unnecessary harm, use business to inspire and implement solutions to the environmental crisis” to a clearer and crisper purpose-driven mission: “Patagonia is in business to save our home planet.”

While you may not be directly responsible for defining, promoting or enforcing your company’s ethical code, know that a truly sustainable business is an ethical business, and vice versa. You can highlight to leadership how internal ethics improve trust and credibility with stakeholders and the ability to build relationships to further sustainability goals. In addition, consider that unsustainable behavior is often also unethical, and can come at a cost. In 2019, Carnival Corp. and its subsidiary Princess Cruises, for example, were fined by the U.S. Department of Justice for continuing to dump plastic and other waste overboard after its initial conviction in 2017. In its values statement, Carnival described its workplace as “an environment where safety, hospitality, teamwork, and respect for the environment and each other are essential”; however their actions were unethical and contradicted these values — and cost them $60 million.

Step 2: Address employee relations and diversity, equity, and inclusion

If you don’t have direct oversight of talent management and diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI), you can highlight their connection to sustainability and work with human resources to collect data on employee sentiments about these topics to capture the value that is created by sustainability. A 2019 study by Fast Company showed that of the 1,000 employees of large U.S. companies that were surveyed, more than 70 percent said that they were more likely to choose to work for a company with a strong environmental agenda. According to BCG, 76 percent of employees are looking for a diverse workforce environment. There is value there for hiring and retention. Let’s look at three steps to improve diversity in your workplace.

  1. Start by determining what to measure. DEI needs will differ by country and region, so what you measure, in terms of representation of underrepresented groups, will differ. It is important to look not just at board composition and management, but at all levels of the broader workforce.
  2. Map your entire DEI chain from where you look for talent to recruitment requirements, and to inclusivity once talent has been hired.
  3. Finally, incentivize managers and executives to ensure that they are supporting and advancing a diverse talent pool.

Step 3: Assess and manage culture change

First, your organization should understand how employees think about, and are engaged in, sustainability. You can do this with a well-designed survey. Trane Technologies defined its sustainability goals in 2020 and used this opportunity to revitalize and refocus its culture. The company developed a survey to regularly assess how employees feel about workplace topics including ethics, manager support, inclusion, career development and work-life balance.

Next, your employees need training to design and implement sustainability initiatives. You can hire sustainability talent, but if you want to gear up quickly and change your culture at scale, training for existing employees is essential. Here are three training areas to assess and provide training to fill any gaps:

  1. All employees should be aware of the material ESG issues for their sector, such as climate change impacts on real estate. You can work with standards-setters such as the Sustainability Accounting Standards Board or the Global Reporting Initiative, or bring in external trainers, develop in-house training capacity or work with university partners.
  2. Employees need systems thinking — the ability to understand the interconnectedness of embedded sustainability work. The Ellen MacArthur Foundation’s “butterfly diagram” visualizes how systems thinking can provide new business insights into the circular economy.
  3. Employees need to understand how to map and manage key stakeholders, and how to negotiate win-win solutions with them. Nespresso engages with myriad stakeholders to improve coffee production sustainability — for example, by working with Rainforest Alliance to define and implement regenerative agriculture techniques and with coffee suppliers to provide ongoing data on the sustainability performance of the farmers. Business for Social Responsibility (BSR) has developed a useful guide to stakeholder mapping and engagement.

The NYU Stern Center for Sustainable Business offers additional guidance in its “Practitioners’ Guide to Embedding Sustainability” as well as a free, online self-paced course, “How to Embed Sustainability Core to Business Strategy and Drive Competitive Advantage.” Our next GreenBiz installment will look at corporate governance practices to support sustainability success.

Tensie Whelan is a distinguished professor of practice for business and society and founding director of the NYU Stern Center for Sustainable Business. Chisara Ehiemere is the senior research lead, Return on Sustainability Investment at the NYU Stern Center for Sustainable Business, where she oversees ROSI research and partnerships.

The post "Here are 3 ways to cultivate your sustainability culture" appeared first on Green Biz

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