From ambition to action: BSI’s four enablers to delivering a net-zero strategy

Solar PV is also “on track” to align with net-zero requirements

Like many organisations, the British Standards Institution (BSI) faces incredible challenges navigating our path to a more sustainable future. As an organisation providing best practice benchmarks for business improvement, used and trusted all over the world, it’s vital that we demonstrate leadership when it comes to our own responsible practices.

A lot of questions revolve around the practicalities of turning ambition into action. Companies are increasingly enthusiastic about contributing to broader environmental and societal goals, but there is often uncertainty about how to get there; where to focus attention and resources, and how to know if enough is being done. The next few years are crucial, and delays not only represent lost momentum, but also lost opportunity.

So I am delighted to share our framework and experiences so far – and what has worked for us in designing a sustainability strategy that actively fuels and facilitates an organisation’s overall objectives.

Our number one tip is to consider company purpose, and align sustainability aims and strategic goals to that purpose. Then, from the outset, it can be shown how sustainability can benefit the entire organisation. We are fortunate that BSI is a purpose-driven organisation, and accelerating progress towards a sustainable world is at the heart of our purpose – but whatever the nature of an organisation, embedding enterprise-wide sustainable practices are vital if a sustainability strategy is to gain traction and succeed.

The next step was for us to identify our key focus areas. There are some common challenges – like carbon, and others that differ depending on the type of organisation and activities. By conducting a robust materiality assessment, we were able to get a clear picture of where we should be focusing our resources to make the greatest positive impact. Armed with all the data at our disposal and the material issue priorities, we could then design a strategy for the next three years and beyond, built around our purpose.

There are four key enablers that have really helped us to bring our strategy to life at BSI:

The first is having the right team in place – including a robust internal network. It’s vital to have solid governance such as leadership team involvement, Board advice, and champions across key functions.

With every interaction with our internal stakeholders, we try to highlight the mutual benefit of collaboration. It’s imperative that the sustainability team isn’t celebrating success on behalf of other teams but providing a platform for them to shine. For example, we recently invited some key stakeholders from our procurement, property and people teams to present achievements to BSI’s Sustainability Committee to the Board.

The second enabler is embedding sustainability in business-as-usual activity – through awareness and engagement, but also through embedding in processes. Sustainability teams are usually small teams in big organisations; in many cases, we’re not directly responsible for enacting the change, we’re the catalysts and advisers for positive change. The more that we can integrate sustainability into the normal functions of the business, the lesser the need for direct impact from our team, and the greater our impact will be.

The third enabler is data. I cannot emphasise enough the importance of capturing quality data. Like most of this work, it’s all about the relationships you build. At BSI, we have created a network of data reporters around the globe and empowered them with a deep understanding of their contribution, and what ‘good’ looks like. Here and throughout our activities, we strive to be our own case study of best practice – certifying against BSI standards and, wherever possible, using our own solutions to accelerate positive change.

The fourth and final enabler is the ability to effectively create shared ownership. Passing that baton of responsibility is crucial. The operational sustainability of an organisation cannot rest on the shoulders of one team but must be a lens through which every employee makes decisions.

One of the best examples of where we have done that lies in how we are tackling our carbon footprint – our top strategic priority.  We chose to adopt a carbon allowance model, which works similarly to a financial budget process. Each department is allocated its own carbon ‘budget’, with reduced targets every year until we reach net-zero. Responsibility for reaching the target lies with our senior leaders, with their bonus remuneration directly linked to it.

Our new strategy has really ignited our Board and senior leadership – the conversations have shifted from ‘restrictions’ to ‘innovation’. Everybody knows what their role is to get to net-zero in our own operations by 2030, and they have flexibility and autonomy within that, with our support. Our plan is to find a similarly engaging method to support a circular economy, healthy water systems and biodiversity.

Sustainability will keep evolving, and we will continue to evolve with it, but I can confidently say that we are on the right track – committed to continuously learning from others and sharing our knowledge and expertise wherever possible, to ensure all businesses have the skills and tools they need to rise to this enormous collective challenge.


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