Published 2 years ago.
About a 4 minute read.
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Like Earth Day, COP26 might rally internal measures on sustainability issues right now, but how can businesses stay on course and maintain that passion and focus once the moment has been and gone?
COP26 offers a powerful moment for sustainability teams.
Historically, they’ve had to lay considerable groundwork before their voices
were heard — but with the climate emergency’s global resonance bringing together
commercial and business strategies, sustainability strategies and conversations
about the fundamental purpose of a business, the stakes and rhetoric have never
been higher. This is an opportunity for sustainability to be driven up the
corporate agenda and for sustainability teams to get more traction and airtime
for their recommendations. But how can they sustain the momentum created by
COP26 once the event has passed?
Like Earth Day, COP26 might rally internal measures on sustainability issues
right now, but how can businesses stay on course and maintain that passion and
focus once the moment has been and gone?
When it comes to COP26, there is much talk about what we are not doing, what
needs to be changed, how we must move faster and the cost this will involve.
Although a necessary pill to swallow, it can be a bitter one for organisations —
especially global organisations with complex supply chains and unwieldly
internal systems. The problem with this mentality is that it is focused on the
imperative to do things differently, rather than the opportunity that a more
sustainable focus brings. The fact is, organisations that are changing to do
things in a more earth- and people-friendly way are experiencing growth. Doing
things differently means opportunities for innovation, access to new markets and
changed relationships with key stakeholders across the value chain. Present a
growth mindset — the idea that COP26 is a reason to create a better brand, an
improved organisation. This sort of thinking helps inspire the embedding of
sustainability into brands, rather than associating it with singular moments, a
problem to be fixed or short-term changes.
Sustainability teams must see COP26 as the stepping-off point for long-term
change, rather than a moment to generate short-term action (although this is
important, too.) The impact of COP26 will not be felt in the run-up, or in the
event itself — it will be in the depth of transformation it has inspired when we
look at it in the rear-view mirror. Use COP26 as a chance to sign off long-term
sustainability ambitions with execs, set against multi-year action plans and
clear KPIs. Use the moment to authorise senior buy-in for long-term, road-mapped
change. In 20 years, what is your organisation going to achieve and what does
one year from now look like? What about year two? After this year’s Summit, you
need to be looking at a clear plan that has already been set and committed to at
the highest level, rather than looking for the next transient calendar event.
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A powerful way to help keep up the momentum of any changes or ambitions set as a
result of COP26 is to tie them to commercial measures. Unilever’s Sustainable
Living Brands are well-known examples of a sustainable product portfolio whose
performance is tracked and reported on. The Sustainable Living Brands’
when compared to Unilever’s wider product portfolio is irrefutable proof
that Unilever’s investment in sustainability delivers commercial advantage and
is a watertight argument for investors and senior execs to keep this investment
up. Set commercial measures against your sustainability strategy to help secure
it for the long term. Show that it is not just about doing something great for
society and people now, or in response to COP26; sustainability is good for
business. You are far more likely to get key stakeholders to see it less as a
news hook and more as a business approach.
An important way to ensure your COP26 response goes the distance (and makes
sense for your organisation) is to make sure that what you say, do and commit
to is aligned with your wider
Sustainability teams’ responses to COP26 must be part of a strategic business
approach that touches all levels and facets of an organisation, and not simply a
knee-jerk reaction to this single line in the sand. Organisations that tie an
approach solely to COP26 and have no stronger purpose foundations won’t be able
to truly realise their potential impact — either in the world or to unlock
growth opportunities around talent, innovation and their brand. Depth of impact
will be felt by the substance of an organisation’s COP26 response and how it
fits with its wider purpose. And this will also help guard against
A credible COP26 response has wider plans and strategy that sit behind it,
making it robust and long term.
It will also corroborate a track record. If your ambition around COP26 doesn’t
fit with your organisation’s purpose, how can you change the business to make
sure it does?
Published Oct 27, 2021 8am EDT / 5am PDT / 1pm BST / 2pm CEST