30-minute masterclass: Seven tips to influence the board on a sustainability strategy

During a 30-minute masterclass webinar hosted by edie last week, Cranfield University's module leader for Managing Corporate Responsibility, Rosina Watson, outlined the key skills needed to promote a sustainability strategy at board level. Here, edie rounds up the key points.

Brought to you as part of the new Sustainability Leadership Programme developed by Cranfield University for edie’s network of sustainability professionals, the 30-minute masterclass is the first in a new series of free online sessions to support career development.


The 30-minute masterclass, was broadcast live on Thursday 12 July at 1pm, and explored some of the skills needed to develop a sustainability strategy and effectively communicate that strategy at a board and senior level to drive change. It is now available to watch on demand.

During the broadcast, Watson – a former head of corporate sustainability at Home Retail Group (Argos and Homebase) – outlined some key advice on how to build purpose into a brand, as well as a five-step process to creating a long-term strategy that targeted key business issues based on stakeholder concerns.

The final point of the whistle-stop presentation was a list of key ways to influence the board and generate backing and buy-in for a strategy. Listed below are the key points.

1) Know your business well

“Even if you’re brought in as a sustainability professional, you can’t operate successfully in a business if you don’t know what it does,” Watson said. “Find out where the power bases lie and stay really close to what the customers of the business are saying.”

2) Know your audience

“Make sure you absolutely see things from [other people’s] perspective,” Watson said. “It’s quite easy as a sustainability professional to get fired up about what you do and even lecture people, so it’s really important to be able to do this.”

3) Be the expert

“Bringing sustainability into a strategy means broadening the business’s skillsets and the sustainability team has to be the place where these new skills are incubated,” Watson said. “For things like carbon reporting, it’s your job to develop those skills and if you can’t, find a partner or expert that can.”

4) Be a translator

Whether its data or feedback from external stakeholders, Watson noted the importance of being able to translate points and figures into a dialogue that can support an argument.

“Talking externally and then communicating that internally involves being a good translator and listener,” Watson added.

5) Communicate widely and consistency

“Have a plan and share it with everyone,” Watson said, also noting the importance of creating an internal support network to help promote sustainability across the business.

6) Create clear and collective accountability

“Sustainability shouldn’t just be something that the sustainability team does, it should be something where the whole organisation is working towards the targets,” Watson said, noting how KPIs and storytelling can help influence actions across the business.

7) Recognise success

While sustainability can be “hard to measure in concrete terms”, Watson highlighted that recognising success, such as hitting key sustainability targets, can be “powerful” within an organisation. This can take the form of internal praise, or even external validation through awards.

Sustainability Leadership Programme

This 30-minute masterclass offers a taster of the full Sustainability Leadership Programme that has been developed by Cranfield University for edie’s network of sustainability professionals. 

Beginning in January 2019, the Sustainability Leadership Programme will be made up of five modules which combine academic excellence with first-hand industry experience. The modules, which take the form of intensive one or two-day courses, will be made up of small, focused groups, allowing for an immersive and personal learning experience. 

Find out more about the Sustainability Leadership Programme and apply to join here.

edie staff

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