3 Habits of Successful Sustainability/CSR ProfessionalsMeabh Carey
As developers of Sustainability and Energy Software, we work on a daily basis with some of the most talented and influential leaders in the Sustainability space. Over a number of years, we get to know our clients as many of them make their journey from basic early stages, to more advanced and sophisticated Sustainability leadership.
It’s no surprise then that over the years our team has come to recognise dozens of traits of high achieving Sustainability and Energy professionals. We thought we’d share some.
These are by no means in order of significance, so lets start with three person-centered attributes.
1. Strong Upward Engagement
We always note that successful sustainability and CSR professionals in any medium or large size organisation have strong support from upper management and the board. This is a result of good upward management.
Many from the outside looking in don’t realise that such support was not always guaranteed. They don’t realise that this support is only as a result of years of tireless effort to raise the board’s awareness of why sustainability matters, and how it can benefit overall performance.
Sadly, we haven’t found one hard and fast rule for demonstrating these benefits as the Sustainability role can have different core objectives and various alignments to the board. However, you can be sure that a board-supported sustainability strategy will be clearly integrated with the organisation’s core competencies. Avoid budget spend on scattered CSR activities and engage board members by reporting positive impacts using standard internal business metrics.
Example: A retail chain used to sponsor an annual charity fun-day event which raised awareness and funding for schools in disadvantaged areas. Over a few years the board regarded the sponsorship as a line item on a powerpoint. The Sustainability team changed the approach from donating money to donating staff time. Win Win. The charity got more volunteers and the staff got the opportunity to get involved in the event itself. Not only did the retail chain benefit from the positive PR which reached their target market, but the employees felt that they were doing something great for the community and felt a greater appreciation for the company. This CSR activity was reported to the board using the metric of a reduced turnover rate. The CSR team now present an annual sustainability strategy update to the board and the team has grown from 1 member to 11 in 3 years.
2. Report Metrics Relevant to Core Business
Those of us who are familiar with the world of Sustainability are used to reporting in terms of scopes, countries and in terms of CO2e. However, for companies organised by functional divisions and/or cost centres, generic Sustainability metrics mean nothing, and that’s before they try to get their head around the scopes and CO2e.
First and foremost, the board members of any organisation clearly understand the reporting structure and metrics presented by operations and finance directors. A common mistake by Heads of Sustainability is for compliance reports to be “trotted out” to executive management but as the board simply are not familiar with those Sustainability and Energy reporting structures, it largely goes by with nothing more than the “nodding dog” response. By reporting the performance of the business in a leaderboard manner using the exact same structures and metrics as reported by finance and operations, it immediately evokes board level interest and follow up.
Example: Company A, a manufacturing and logistics business used to provide the CDP Report tables as the core part of their board level report. Emissions by scope by year and emissions by country. It rarely if ever received any engagement or initiated any action. The Sustainability Manager switched to reporting the company’s performance as a KPI using CO2e with financial and operational production, and shipping figures on a monthly frequency. Immediately, the board recognised the significance of the trends in the charts and tables in this format, and it drove a series of investment projects to bring certain facilities and divisions in line with the company average. Effectively communicating recognisable metrics is not limited to just board members. By the same token the approach works well with colleagues, facilities managers, energy managers, and the public.
Example: Company B, a professional services firm, used to publish last quarters Energy consumption, trend and carbon footprint on their website and on TV screens in the lobby of their 120 offices. There were two key issues with this great initiative.
a) The public had no reference as to whether or not a daily consumption of 1200 KWh was impressive.
b) Staff could not understand acronyms relating to site names meaning it failed to engage staff support.
To turn this around, the Sustainability team began to report the energy values in terms of number of pots of tea made. This was linked to a leaders board of office performances. With an “Improver of the Month” award up for grabs, both staff and clients alike could follow progress.
To add an extra element of clarity and relevance, include publicly available benchmark data from key competitors if available.
3. Recognising The Team
The most successful Sustainability professionals don’t always have a dedicated team. However, through enthusiasm and passion and by directly relating the Sustainability agenda to the organisations core objectives they can engage large “Green Teams”. This is perhaps more successful than having a dedicated team as the “Green Teams” tend to be much larger and geographically dispersed across the entire organisation.
So how do Sustainability and Energy Leaders entice their colleagues to get involved? The key initiator is visibility as discussed in points 1 and 2 above. Following on from that, by demonstrating that involvement in the “Green Team” can raise an ambitious person’s profile within the business this directly translates to career advancement. Rubbing shoulders with the CEO or country managing director at a Sustainability or CSR event is a great way to demonstrate leadership and management qualities which can help leapfrog colleagues.
Crucially, this only works if the Head of Energy, Sustainability or CSR pushes the “Green Team” members selflessly forward for praise and recognition. While its clear to all including executive management that the Head of Sustainability is the driving force behind the program, their ability to motivate and lead is the key to the “Green Team’s” success. Those that do so in a humble way endear themselves to colleagues and the “Green Team” grows. As the “Green Team” grows, more and more CSR and Sustainability initiatives are achieved with a comparatively low budget and the “Green Team” entity becomes perpetual.