Passion or profit? The way to the board's heart

Energy managers can operate in very different business environments.

Some companies have relatively mature policies on sustainability, which integrate such principals into business strategy. Others, perhaps less and less in recent years, treat sustainability as an add-on and getting other parts of the business to support it can be a challenge.

One key theme is common to all energy managers, however - getting boardroom buy-in is essential to success.

At the Sustainable Business Conference in London today (January 27) energy managers swapped their experiences.

Gemma Lacey , head of corporate and social responsibility at John Lewis Group, found the key to success was having a co-owned business, where employees, or 'partners' share in the profits and benefits.

Engaging partners in activities for their environment programmes has proved successful in driving forward the sustainable agenda.

The Crown Estate experience came from a different background, as Jane Baptist, head of sustainability, explained. Historically, corporate responsibility and sustainability were 'de-linked' from business drivers. There were ad hoc projects but no real senior management buy-in.

To turn this around the organisation ran a series of workshops to create a culture change at board level. Senior managers were motivated by the workshops and wanted to be innovators in sustainability.

A new post, head of sustainability was created, and champion network groups headed by senior managers drove forward a strategy of working together to tackle climate change, energy security and carbon reduction.

This, she said, broke down silo-mentality between the different parts of the company and while there were still challenges, director buy-in had been their 'salvation'.

Passion was not necessarily the key for motivating others to valuing sustainability for Matthew Wynde of the Carbon Trust.

A board's motivation is long-term value of the business for shareholders. To appeal to their motivations, the message has to be framed in these terms.

That energy efficiency can make real and substantial financial savings is a message that will work. "Involve a cynic", he said, "they could become your biggest advocate." Alison Brown

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