19 New Year's resolutions for sustainability professionals in 2019

Love them or hate them, New Year's resolutions are a tool to motivate and inspire individuals to start a new calendar year with renewed focus. Here, edie has listed 19 resolutions for sustainability professionals in 2019 that will help businesses ignite a new era of leadership.

Which resolutions will you pick?

Which resolutions will you pick?

“New Year, new me”, as the saying goes, is a way for individuals everywhere to set goals aimed at improving personal health and wellbeing that inevitably last until February.

For professionals working within businesses that are already working towards long-term CSR targets, the first few days of 2019 have likely felt like business as usual. However, sustainability success stories have always been driven by raised ambitions and accelerated actions.

With this in mind, edie has highlighted 19 aspirations, including some with exclusive quotes and insight from sustainability leaders, that professionals can work towards to help drive business prosperity while alleviating some key environmental and planetary concerns.

1) Start setting a 1.5C science-based target

Late last year, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s (IPCC) special report warned there are only a dozen years for global warming to be kept to a maximum of 1.5C - beyond which even half a degree will significantly worsen the risks of drought, floods, extreme heat and poverty for hundreds of millions of people.

However, just a handful of corporates – namely, Tesco, BT, Carlsberg and Pukka Herbs – have set science-based targets aligned towards the Paris Agreement’s more ambitious pathway. The Science Based Target initiative (SBTi) will place a renewed focus on assisting businesses in setting emissions reduction goals aligned with the 1.5C ambition, so make 2019 the year your business pushes towards this pathway.

2) Help create a truly circular economy

If 2018 is likely to be remembered for anything in the sustainability sphere, it will be the relentless and much-needed phase-out of single-use plastics. The issue has raised awareness of resource use amongst the public to unprecedented levels, and now the door is open for businesses to adopt, embed and educate others on the importance of a circular economy. Fortunately, some firms are charging ahead in this area.

Speaking to edie, H&M Group’s environmental sustainability manager Cecilia Brannsten noted: “From an environmental perspective, we will continue to develop goals for our circular economy. With circularity, we will focus not only on our products but also on our non-commercial goods. After signing up to the New Plastics Economy initiative for our packaging, a big development for us will be the creation of a circular packaging strategy, for example.”

3) Set a target that you don’t know how to achieve

Whether it is striving to become net positive, aiming to source 100% renewable energy globally, or attempting to reverse climate change, more ambitious sustainability goals are being set much more frequently.

One thing that these bold targets tend to have in common is that the company setting them isn’t sure how it will reach those goals. Why not use 2019 as the moment that your business set a lofty goal that inspired its workforce to think of new ways of working.

4) Unleash innovation at a rapid scale

In a recent interview with edie, AB InBev's chief sustainability and procurement officer Tony Milikin spoke of his delight at the launch of the firm’s 100+ Accelerator innovation scheme, calling it the “most interesting and important thing we’re doing”.

AB InBev, and many other firms, have set up these types of innovation incubators to support start-ups with disruptive solutions to commercialise ideas that could accelerate sustainability actions. Even if your business doesn’t have the funds to support 100 innovations, green innovations come in all shapes and sizes, so why not introduce one to your workplace or operations this year?

5) Take a leap of faith

Investing in innovation requires confidence in that solution’s ability to deliver. A risk-averse approach is understandable but waiting for a silver bullet to emerge means the business runs the risk of becoming stagnant, potentially regressing as others around them continue to make progress. Even if all the dots are not joint up, 2019 is the year to be bold and start taking new steps.

As retailer Surfdome’s head of sustainability Adam Hall noted in a previous edie feature: “there’s a bigger threat from us not doing anything and, on that journey from not being 100% perfect, we will find 100% perfect.”

6) Collaborate to ensure sustainability is pre-competitive

Collaboration has always been a buzzword for sustainability professionals, but as the plastics problem has shown, companies – even rivals – are willing to band together to solve some of the world’s biggest issues.

You’ve likely networked with sustainability professionals from rival companies, discussing common goals and barriers in the process. Make 2019 the moment where you finally share ideas and visions with the rest of the sector to ensure no one is left behind during the low-carbon and resource-efficient transition.

7) Find new partners in unlikely places

Building on the previous point, now is the time to start talking to external organisations that you’ve not interacted with before. Is your waste stream valuable for another sector? Can your surplus energy benefit a neighbouring building?

Logistics firm UPS has a refreshing approach to this. The company is viewing technological advances as an “urban design experiment” that will make the future city cleaner and greener. As a result, the firm is much closer to electric vehicle manufacturers, utility giants and even city planners. So, get a different perspective on your goals by seeing how it benefits another sector.

8) Embed the Sustainable Development Goals

It is widely reported that action against the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) is not matching up to ambitions and pledges. If 2019 is the last year for your company to deliver existing sustainability goals, now is the time to start examining how the Global Goals can influence and drive new long-term strategies, rather than the current approach of overlaying relevant SDGs onto targets.

Its easier said than done, so why not read up on how Bunzl Catering Supplies moved to align itself with the SDGs in a bid to maximise its positive social and environmental impact.

9) Get other departments onboard

Whether it's through boardroom backing, KPIs with a sustainability focus, or good old-fashioned conversations, sustainability professionals have to take ambitions, ideas and jargon out from one department and embed it across the entire business.

Why not set targets to meet with other departments at selected times throughout the year – the more frequent the better. From here, it’s about empathising and understanding their job objectives and highlighting how sustainability can assist them. The video below is a good place to start if your approach needs refining.

10) Take the supply chain on your journey

Once sustainability is embedded across your entire organisation, it is time to start looking outwards to accelerate progress further. Supply chains often consist of smaller companies that will struggle to embed sustainability, so bring them on your journey and align them with your goals while future-proofing your supplies in the process.

This is something that Landsec’s head of sustainability Caroline Hill is eager to do in 2019. “It’s only when you unlock the full power of your supply chain from end to end that you can really make a difference,” Hill said on a recent podcast episode. “It’s about really drilling down and thinking about maximum impact, because we really need to change this at pace.”

11) Redefine your business purpose

It is becoming increasingly apparent that consumers want to align themselves with companies that stand for something. As ethically aware millennials become a major portion of the target audience, companies need to ensure that they have a purpose in place that highlights how it will contribute towards key societal and environmental needs.

Even companies further down the supply chain are redefining purposes to attract and retain new customers. Olam Cocoa’s vice president for sustainability Simon Brayn-Smith recently explained how the organisation had rephrased its purpose to “reimagining global agriculture” to look 20 years ahead into the future to see what needs to change today to “address global challenges of the future”.

12) Double down on green finance

The green finance market is maturing, as banks and investors are encouraged by the Task Force on Climate-related Financial Disclosures' (TCFD) to back firms that have sustainability embedded across operations and processes. Companies ranging from Mars to Shell have publicly announced how much they plan to invest in green projects and systems, which provides welcome clarity to stakeholders and consumers alike.

The investors are interested in hearing commitments to green finance, as explained by ING’s global head of sustainable finance Leonie Schreve. “At ING we believe sustainable business is better business and we can make our biggest contribution to a sustainable future through financing. We are constantly working towards our long-term goal of doubling our funding to companies and sectors that are helping to keep global warming well below 2C.”

13) Share your failures

Transparency is becoming increasingly prominent within reporting standards and guidelines. While companies will disclose data and discuss successes and progress, there are very few cases of businesses openly discussing projects and trials that didn’t work out.

With collaboration in mind, why not set a target to share your failures with stakeholders and key sector players to ensure they don’t get stopped by the same pitfalls. In fact, why not get in touch with edie and we can help you tell that story.

14) Make a Mission Possible pledge

If you're already planning on setting some new goals for a company in 2019, why not see if they align to any of edie’s Mission Possible pillars - energyresourcesinfrastructuremobility and business leadership – and make a new commitment to the Mission Possible Pledge Wall.

More than 70 companies, including the likes of Amazon, Royal Mail and PwC have made pledges on the wall, so help us add to the list by making a commitment of your own. More information can be found here.

15) Make sustainability accessible to the majority

We’ve touched on consumers already, but as their awareness of climate and resource issues grows, so does their desire to act on it. Products and services have to be designed in a way that enables consumers to live more sustainability, and companies such as Unilever and Ikea have proved that this can be a huge financial driver.

Kingfisher is another company to have adopted this ethos, with the firm’s head of sustainability Caroline Laurie noting in a previous feature that the most important thing she does as a sustainability adviser is to “translate sustainability into something personally meaningful” that makes sustainability “accessible to the majority”.

16) Deliver the triple bottom line

In 1995, John Elkington coined the triple-bottom-line approach of ‘people, planet, profit’. More than 20 years later and it is still debatable as to whether businesses have truly delivered the benefits of this ethos.

The Body Shop’s international CSR director Christopher Davies, for example, doesn’t believe that this ideology has been truly realised and his personal New Year’s resolution is to “relook at it and take a fresh approach to this concept of sustainability” in order to deliver a triple bottom line. Why note join Davies in this approach?

17) Champion diversity

New minds bring new opinions and ideas, which can be crucial in uncovering hidden considerations to the viability of a sustainability project. However, research by campaigners POWERful Women, for example, found that 46% of the top 80 companies in the energy sector have all-male boards, with just 7% of executive board seats occupied by women.

If this is a trend you’ve noticed in your company, use the year to champion and campaign for new opportunities for women, ethnic minorities and even workers without an academic degree. You could find that this will lead to invigorated conversations regarding sustainability.

18) Get nominated for an award

While its all well and good putting the processes, systems and behaviours in place that deliver successful progress regarding sustainability, recognition can ensure that others take note that what you and your team have implemented isn’t just successful, it’s best practice.

Getting nominated for a sustainability award can help you get the internal recognition you deserve, plus the awards evenings are usually good fun as well. So, why not make it a goal to get your work nominated this year, and be on the lookout for details for edie’s Sustainability Leaders Awards later in the year.

19) Make your role obsolete

The ultimate aim of a sustainability professional is to essentially make the need for a sustainability professional redundant. Global paints company AkzoNobel, for example, has already scaled down its sustainability team because the low-carbon agenda is so deeply embedded in the company’s culture.

While this is unlikely to be achieved over the next 12 months, it’s a good ambition to put in place. You’ll also be sharing that ambition with AB InBev’s global vice president of sustainability Ezgi Barcenas, who goes into detail about her desire to make the sustainability role obsolete in a special Green Room podcast episode.

So what resolution do you have in place for 2019? Feel free to comment below and let us know what you'll be focusing on over the next 12 months.

Matt Mace


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