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Organizational Change
Languish Anguish:
Why Good Sustainability Strategies Stall

“Our organization is totally supportive of sustainability as long as nothing else comes up or it doesn’t interfere with something the Executive wants to do!”

Hands up if you have heard this before. Many organizations find that after the long process of building and adopting a sustainability policy or strategy, they stall. Sure, implementing and embedding sustainability into the business and day-to-day operational decisions is hard work, but that’s not the only thing holding up changes. Often, the environmental management or sustainability plan becomes siloed within the organization, resulting in delays and disorganization. As well, functional leaders don’t always understand the plan’s relevance to their area.

In my experience advising on the design and execution of sustainability strategies for organizations, sustainability managers face these common pitfalls:

  1. Sustainability is not well understood. As many as 4 or 5 different definitions and philosophies can exist in the organization.
  2. There is no business case for sustainability, so leaders are not convinced its merits go beyond a goodwill or nice-to-have measure.
  3. It is not operationalized: There is no cross-functional accountability, and targets and metrics haven’t been developed.
  4. There is a lack of commitment, with few to no incentives and no agreement on priorities. Often sustainability is a last-minute consideration in decision-making - too late to influence the outcome.

It can be challenging to overcome these familiar hurdles, but not impossible. In fact, there are many opportunities to integrate sustainability in your corporate culture and governance.

This past year I collaborated with Canadian Business for Social Responsibility to develop a set of next-generation corporate sustainability practices, called the Qualities of a Transformational Company. The Transformational Company commits to accelerating and scaling sustainability solutions in its business model and society. One of the top – and necessary – qualities is “Sustainability Governance and Culture,” in which sustainability is embedded into governance, business processes, operations, investments, culture and competencies, incentivizing more conscious decisions and innovation.

If you’re looking for key areas to focus on, this visual provides an overview of the crucial internal leverage points needed to embed sustainability into your corporate culture and enable successful delivery of your sustainability strategy:

For more ideas on how to integrate sustainability into your organization, click here.