THE ISSUE: Corporate Sustainability Measures are Too Short-Sighted
This short-sightedness comes from multiple factors, the first being that there is no true definition of "sustainability" by which every corporation must abide. According to PBS, "one company's 'sustainable' move could hurt the environment in other ways," largely because of a lack of understanding by (or agreement among) corporate executives of regarding which actions are genuinely sustainable.
Many businesses can point to areas where they've improved their so-called 'sustainability,' "but few can provide hard evidence that their business practices are not damaging the environment."
For some sectors, like consumer packaged goods (CPGs) as an example, measuring environmental impact (both negative and positive) is difficult. For many companies, self-generated emissions reports have been shown to track only the emissions of certain parts of their supply chains, obscuring the company's true accountability. The lack of accountability on sustainability measures, especially by the US government with relation to corporations, only adds to the problem.
Unfortunately, most companies across the globe are struggling to implement long-term solutions to improve sustainability. Too many are focusing only on "measures that have a short-term cost-saving effect," or those which make them look (but not actually be) more sustainable in the eyes of the public.
Making businesses greener can be expensive and may require a temporary reduction in profit margins, which can make CEOS, boards, and shareholders adverse to the changes. The customer goodwill built by companies making green strides is often not enough to encourage the changes that would truly make a positive environmental impact.
Additionally, for many of the sustainability programs already in place, companies are lacking the steering and governance infrastructures to develop and implement long-term solutions, and need stronger direction and leadership to do this successfully.
Following simple guidelines, and giving the right amount of support and governance to the right efforts, is essential to truly going green.
THE FIX: Treat Sustainability Agendas Like Productivity Agendas
We have three recommendations for reinventing your corporate sustainability programs.
Review & Update Sustainability Goals
To begin, companies need to review sustainability measures which have been in place for at least a year. These measures and the progress toward their original goals should be assessed by an environmental auditor, who can determine if current measures are sufficient (based on collected data). Any measures or goals that aren't (or won't) be scalable, viable long-term, and reduce the corporate carbon footprint should be re-evaluated and adjusted toward stronger outcomes with the help of the auditor.
This evaluation should be conducted in conjunction with the development of the aforementioned short- and long-term goals on the new-and-improved corporate sustainability plan.
Establish & Support Project Leadership
Projects without strong, dedicated, and knowledgeable leaders, or which have leaders who are given very little c-suite support, will inevitably fail. A company which believes that green measures and goals are too important to let fail will choose leaders with backgrounds in sustainability, and will give them the finances, authority, assistance, and support they need to be successful will be integral to success.
Green leadership across all functions and at all levels (from c-suite to program-level) - is necessary to ensure buy-in across the organization. Department-level sustainability targets facilitate a sense of ownership across the ranks of upper management; this, in turn, increases the likelihood that the programs will be given the attention they need to be successful.
Establish Oversight & Governance Policies
Once the corporate sustainability plan has been audited, measures and goals have been adjusted, and strong leadership has been put into place, it's time to establish true oversight for all sustainability projects. Oversight should not only include regular auditing by department-level managers, sustainability leaders, and c-suite execs, but also by board members, stakeholders, and external auditors (though in the latter cases, this often can be done annually).
Governance should also include internal (and significant) penalties for all c-suite executives within business segments that do not meet stated goals; no employees lower than c-suite should be penalized. If the top level can't make the necessary changes, how can they expect the average worker to do it?
Becoming more sustainable isn't as easy as 1 - 2 - 3, but with dedicated resources and the right leadership, it is surely attainable. Imbuing sustainability measures with the same importance that productivity measures are given is key to making the right change happen.