Sally Cornelius, BASIS Executive Board member and co-founder of The Happy Ocean Company, writes about embedding a sustainable culture. Sally helps organisations understand stakeholder perceptions of their sustainability strategy and assists them with embedding their polices and driving about change.
The increasing global awareness of the climate crisis has inevitably put the spotlight on how we are all living, prompting more and more organisations to question how sustainable their operations are and how they can be improved so as to reduce environmental harm.
At BASIS, we are often asked for support from our community on how to write a sustainability strategy: what to include; what frameworks to use. Getting the right framework and setting the relevant targets for each organisation is undoubtedly a fundamental process, but one that can only be ultimately effective if it is properly and consistently implemented in the long term. In other words, in order for a sustainability strategy to be truly, well, sustainable, it needs to wholly embedded into an organisation’s DNA.
And the earlier this process of integration begins, the better. Engaging stakeholders from the outset – in the early stages of planning – is highly beneficial. Having channels for open dialogue right from the start can not only help inform your own sustainability strategies, but it also encourages a level of involvement and ‘buy-in’ across the relevant parties. This sense of feeling invested then translates into stronger long-term thinking and ultimately better outcomes.
Conducting research across a range of stakeholders (via surveys, interviews, etc) is a crucial part of understanding current perceptions of your organisation in terms of its performance on sustainability, including its strengths and weaknesses. For a sports club, key stakeholders include both members of staff from across the organisation and external contacts, such as suppliers, sponsors, shareholders, the media and fans/visitors. Initial exploration will provide invaluable information for benchmarking your performance and ongoing research will let you assess the impact of initiatives on stakeholder perceptions – all fundamental to sustainability reputation management.
Gaining a 360-view from across your stakeholder groups will shine a light on the potential barriers, logistical or attitudinal, that could hamper your sustainability efforts – but will also provide insight into how these barriers can be overcome. A full analysis like this will bring workable operational and PR actions which, combined with exercises such motivational workshops and regular communications output, generate an understanding of why these actions and processes are needed, and how far-reaching the benefits will be.
Recent research as part of our #buildbackbetter consultation highlighted how, while some organisations are now implementing a range of initiatives and actions, sustainability issues are still not often a regular feature of Board-level discussions. Too frequently, sustainability strategies become siloed and are not seen as an integral facet of all operations and departments. But realising the potential of your organisation to fully engage with all your stakeholders on this topic, and understanding how great your sphere of influence can be, is a game-changing process, and one that means sustainability can become truly embedded across all your operations.