Your sustainability performance will rely on having good governance structures and strong commitment from decision makers so that you can select the sustainability activities that directly support your business goals. It is also critical to making sustainability work through the whole business.
Top level commitment can ensure access to any financial and human resource investments that may be needed. A commitment at the management level helps to embed your sustainability strategies into daily procedures and flow through to your workplace culture.
Commitment to the three pillars of social, economic and environmental sustainability at the senior levels of your business will minimise the risk of complaints and legal action which could arise from occupational health and safety incidents, environmental accidents, anti-competitive practice, workplace harassment and corruption.
Sustainable governance and strategy in practice
Applying sustainability at the governance and strategy level of your business might mean focusing on your leadership. Business owners, decision makers and managers have a strong influence as role models and can provide leadership by demonstrating their commitment to sustainability. This is reinforced by decisions that clearly show that sustainability factors have been considered. You might use a sustainability checklist to make sure you cover a range of sustainability issues.
You could involve your decisions makers in developing a vision that captures your organisation’s values. You can communicate this vision through the business and encourage your leaders to demonstrate the attitudes and behaviours that support the vision.
It is important to ‘walk the talk’ and put your vision into daily practices. If your vision is to have an innovative team that creates better products and better ways of working you will need to reinforce this in practice. Hold team meetings, consultative committees or other ways that everyone can contribute ideas. Be transparent about how the ideas are evaluated and put into action. If your values include ethical practice, make it clear to your managers and workers that the business will comply with company law, occupational health and safety, tax requirements and employee entitlements.
Putting your vision into practice will be most effective if you have the support of your decision makers. To support your strategic commitment to sustainability you could set criteria for your board members and other decision makers that cover sustainability issues. In addition to their relevant work experience you could have eligibility criteria for sustainability issues that are important to your business – whether that is community consultations, fair trade networks or low carbon supply chain options.
With the link between sustainability, good governance and ethical practice you could involve your decision makers in developing and agreeing to an organisational code of conduct.
To be strategic about your investment in sustainability you could use a risk – benefit approach to your decisions. Identifying the sustainability risks to your business in terms of social, economic and environmental factors can help to focus on areas that could result in serious incidents and high costs.
You can also identify the potential benefits from a range of social, economic and environmental sustainability activities to see how they support your business goals. For example you might decide that improving your community profile is a priority so that you reduce the number of complaints from locals. Or you might find that designing energy efficient products fits with your target market.
Top level commitment will help to ensure that your sustainability decisions are followed through. This might mean allocating a budget for maintaining equipment so that it is at peak efficiency or allocating a certain amount of time each shift for cleaning up. It might mean ensuring sufficient time in daily activities so that workers can apply safety and quality procedures and it should include keeping safety equipment available and functioning.
Your strategy might be to set policies and procedures that are just for sustainability so that they are really visible and can be made to target new activities or new job roles. Or you might add sustainability activities into your existing policies and procedures, or a combination of both. Either way if they are consistent in covering sustainability and are clearly communicated they can be effective tools for putting sustainability into practice. They should give clear guidance to workers about what is expected and will help managers monitor, give feedback and arrange for training.
Managing your performance
There are many areas you could focus your strategies for sustainability but they will be most successful if they are supported by good governance and leadership. Things to think about include:
- Identifying the core values of your business and working to instill these into the organisational culture
- Analysing the risks and benefits to your business across a range of sustainability areas
- Using improvement systems such as Lean and the Competitive Systems and Practices and Sustainable Operations qualifications to identify relevant sustainability measures and to set realistic improvement goals
- Mechanisms to ensure that decision makers are committed to sustainability and ‘walk the talk’
- Having clear procedures that cover your sustainability activities
- Supporting you procedures with consistent communications, mentoring and training and good management practices.