How to build a culture of sustainability

For edie’s Business Leadership Month, BSI's group sustainability director Ghinwa Chammas outlines what steps and ingredients are crucial for organisations that want to embed sustainability holistically across all functions.

How to build a culture of sustainability

Organisational structure tends to see specific tasks being delegated to specific departments, which can naturally lead to colleagues seeing the organisation through the lens of their own specific responsibilities. Sustainability can also fall victim to this, with the expectation that it is not something that sits on everyone’s to-do list. In reality, accelerating progress towards a sustainable world can only really be possible when everyone in an organisation sees through the sustainability lens.

Building a culture of sustainability means sustainability becomes part of ‘the way we do things around here’. To achieve this, all employees need to have a baseline understanding of sustainability and how it relates to them. Moreover, sustainability needs to be integrated with business-as-usual processes. How do we bring everyone on board? How do we weave sustainability into the fabric of our organisations?

One strategy for bringing people on board is building employee confidence by engaging teams and providing guidance and support along the way. That means more than a once-a-year training course or sharing a slide deck; going beyond single points of contact to an ongoing, two-way dialogue. And it means making information and advice relatable – providing ‘real world’ reasons to engage and strive for change. Understanding the audience, how sustainability will affect their decisions, where they sit in an organisation, the pressures they are under and what will be landing on their desk can help ensure they are increasingly engaged.

At BSI, we’re helping cut through the noise, by providing monthly Teams sessions called Sustainability Snacks, that offer the chance for people to have conversations around a lot of the stickier, more complex topics. These offer a safe place for our people to get a better understanding of all the work on the ground and get their questions answered in real time. That helps them feel they are part of a wider team, all working to benefit the environment and society.

Embedding sustainability means sustainability is seen as part of the ingredients, not just the decoration on top of the cake. It’s using every tool in our toolkit to empower people to adopt a sustainability lens in the way they make business decisions, design products and services, and engage with the world. Positive sustainable outcomes will only be achieved if such thinking is embedded early on.

One way of enabling this is ensuring that everyone in the organisation feels a sense of personal responsibility. That’s the approach we’ve taken at BSI as we try to accelerate our own contribution to a sustainable world. We’ve introduced a carbon allowance model that gives personal ownership to our leaders by providing annual target numbers to reach and tying that to remuneration. We don’t only share responsibility, we also share the limelight, ensuring our successful collaboration with our internal stakeholders is rightly celebrated.

There’s no one-size-fits-all way of building sustainability culture. To achieve change, it’s about leaders empowering people by giving them the tools to help them make better decisions and giving them space to collaborate and find the best path for our future. Sustainability touches every aspect of business – and the culture we build should collectively drive progress.

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