While the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has presented business with some well-documented challenges, an increasing number of organisations are discovering that it also offers real opportunities to embrace more sustainable practices to better ensure longer-term success.
The lockdown has certainly led to a growing necessity for different ways of doing business. The transition to increased homeworking and digital meetings is delivering tangible benefits for employers, employees and the wider world, including cleaner air, less noise pollution, more flexible working practices, and savings on office and travel-related costs. These benefits are creating a real impetus for change and an opportunity for companies to capitalise on this period of enforced but positive behavioural shift.
The pandemic has also brought into sharp relief the importance of business resilience planning and sustainability performance, which both give a strong indication of how successful an organisation will be at mitigating risk. However, having a great sustainability strategy in place isn’t likely to achieve the desired impact unless a culture of sustainability is embedded throughout the organisation.
It’s been clear since the start of lockdown (and long before) that those businesses that have shown sustainability leadership, innovation and good crisis management have strengthened their brand. So one of the most important steps a company can take right now is to focus on putting sustainability at the heart of its culture.
This means role modelling from the top, articulating a powerful narrative, focusing on internal communication that breaks down barriers, and empowering teams to act. For many businesses this can mean a complete transformation of existing practices.
The tools of transformation
We’ve identified four key themes to help organisations begin to embed sustainability:
• Surpass sector norms, moving beyond doing a good job, to setting performance in the context of the wider world and its needs
• Realise that the window of opportunity is closing for action on both environmental and societal issues
• Refocus on organisational purpose to build longer-term value and trust
• Embrace a collaborative approach, recognising that partnership working, knowledge sharing, and collaboration are crucial to successful action.
In addition, we believe that creating a powerful platform for organisational change only comes from an alignment of strategy, culture and activation, as shown in the diagram.
Delivering this kind of shift needs focus and investment. It takes time, it requires building trust, nurturing relationships and developing a compelling purpose-led vision. But it is a journey worth taking.
Organisations with a demonstrable commitment to sustainable practices and an embedded culture of sustainability – owned and demonstrated from the top, and powered by internal and external collaboration – show increased growth in trust and value, and are better equipped to seize the opportunities for long-term success presented by this new world for business.