Stop the siloes: How a successful sustainability strategy involves the whole business
For edie’s Business Leadership Month, Peter Bragg, EMEA sustainability & government affairs director at Canon, looks at how sustainability can be taken out of its silo to the benefit of the whole business.
It’s no longer news that sustainability is at the forefront of everyone’s minds. Consumers and companies alike are prioritising the planet by adopting more sustainable shopping habits and making more commitments to improve credentials, with 87% of business leaders planning to increase sustainability strategy investment over the next two years. While it’s great to see so many companies prioritising sustainability initiatives within their business model, there still remains a large number of business leaders who are struggling with the implementation of effective, large-scale sustainability strategies.
Many companies are establishing sustainability-focused departments, or specific roles, to help address these issues, however, by creating these silos, businesses are hindering the widespread adoption of sustainable practices that are needed to make a difference. Instead, businesses need to make sure every department, team and individual are taking an active part in delivering sustainability goals. Only then will sustainability strategies deliver the impactful and purposeful results needed.
Adopt a corporate philosophy
‘Sustainability’ in itself is an umbrella term that incorporates many different focus areas and methods for making the world a better place. For businesses setting a sustainability strategy, it can be easy to get lost in the generalisations, however every organisation should have a different idea of what sustainability means, because different businesses impact the planet in different ways.
Whether it’s working towards a greener supply chain or focusing also on social responsibility, it’s important for businesses to identify key areas they can improve to better the planet and establish clear goals to unify under. For Canon, we’ve adopted the corporate philosophy of Kyosei, meaning ‘living and working together for the common good’. This has provided a base from which we can launch specific initiatives aimed at both reducing our environmental impact and growing our social impact, while ensuring we are responsible and compliant with our products.
Expand efforts in-house
For better practices to be adopted by all departments in a business, it is key to both engage and educate the team. Building sustainability into the business model means ensuring all departments and business units are engaged and responsible for initiatives in their particular market. Aligning different people from across the business has been made easier with virtual communication, and setting up channels and regular check-ins is a great way to keep teams on track. It also proves incredibly useful to learn from teams in different markets, to understand what initiatives have worked, or haven’t, and use that feedback to inform strategies.
At Canon, we facilitate this open communication by working with our multidisciplinary steerco, where all functions of the business are connected and engaged. Setting up leadership working groups like this to apply practices and policies to individual departments ensures that everyone is aware of the role they have to play.
Partnerships broaden efforts
Just as many different areas of a business are needed to implement sustainability strategies, partnerships with other organisations can be a way of reaching all areas of the business. This can be by ensuring sustainability along a supply chain by only partnering with other responsible businesses, as well as broadening practices through proactive joint campaigns.
At Canon, we’ve developed a partnership with the UN SDG Action Team, and our Young People Programme (YPP) works with local NGOs including the Red Cross and Plan International to empower the next generation to make their voice heard on sustainability issues important to them. These particular partnerships have elevated our efforts in the social purpose side of sustainability, which works in addition to our focus on reducing our environmental impact.
Align with an existing framework
Thinking about the bigger picture in terms of sustainable goals can create difficulties for organisations wanting to coordinate approaches throughout the business – especially if they operate in different markets. Using existing framework is a good way to align teams and speed up the activation of these strategies.
The UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) provide a framework for coordinating action across a wide range of topics, keeping businesses in line to achieve goals by 2030. If these goals are included in sustainability and business strategies, they can unite different areas of the business and support a culture that recognises the importance of prioritising sustainability. The UN Global Compact published The SDG Compass to assist companies in aligning the Goals with their strategies.
Creating and implementing an effective sustainability strategy for your business, therefore, requires four key aspects: a clear and relevant sustainability goal, effective communication and engagement from across teams, appropriate partnerships to broaden sustainability practises and useful frameworks to align different teams under. The key theme here is collaboration, and by breaking down the silos, we can make sustainability a company-wide mission rather than a challenge reserved for business leaders alone. Only then can we start to make real change happen.