Sustaining positive change: The importance of thinking long term for both organisations and individuals
Courtney Holm, head of UK sustainability and Vice President, Sustainable Futures at Capgemini explores how long-term thinking and tangible promises that negate greenwashing can unlock new mindsets around sustainable action.
Despite businesses across all industries stating that sustainability initiatives are top of their agenda, today’s consumers are becoming increasingly skeptical about what action is being taken, and have grown wary of greenwashing. This has led to a greater consumer demand for businesses to showcase their sustainability efforts to prove their commitments.
According to Capgemini’s recent study, conducted alongside BLOOM and Dassault Systèmes, the perceived gap between sustainability ambitions and actions is a growing concern for the future, with consumers feeling a sense of hopelessness and climate-related anxiety about the size of the task ahead.
This isn’t the first time we have tackled social change at scale. The counterculture of the 1960s and 70s and today’s sustainability-driven activism are interconnected through their shared principles of challenging the status quo, advocating for heightened consciousness, promoting equity and social justice, engaging in grassroots movements, demanding corporate accountability, and re-shaping cultural norms. Both moments in time exemplify humanity’s innate drive to bring about positive change and create a more sustainable and equitable future.
In order to fight for our future and embrace sustainable business transformation for many generations to come, organisations – and we as the individuals behind them – need to think long-term. In our professional lives, this includes helping put achievable and measurable KPIs in place to hold our leadership accountable. In our personal lives, it means finding ways to support the systemic change needed. Here are four ways we can help drive real action.
Prioritising positive impact in the boardroom
All too often organisations heavily focus their goals towards shareholder profits and sustained growth, without fully understanding the environmental impacts that will be caused throughout their production journey or the implications these could give rise to in the future that may, in fact, limit this growth.
Instead, climate change and social impact need to take a bigger seat at the table in order to give organisations a license to operate and futureproof their business models.
Gaining an understanding of what being sustainable means for an organisation and how it can potentially affect the business, including its products, stakeholders and partners, will be a vital step in shifting the perspective on how big of a role climate change should play within the boardroom.
Aligning organisational KPIs with long-term goals
Once an organisation has established the pressing importance of the climate crisis within its boardroom, aligning business decisions and setting operational KPIs in line with its environmental and social ambitions are essential next steps to engage wider stakeholder groups.
CSR reporting has become the norm for any company committed to responsible business practice. Indeed, recent research suggests that 96% of S&P 500 companies now publish ESG reports in some form.
Organisations are becoming louder in their commitment to reaching net-zero and meeting KPIs, but these goals need to be centered on achieving meaningful progress and not a vague check box exercise within annual reporting. For example, reporting metrics such as “organisation has engaged with supplier to mitigate net zero,” do not tell us what form of communication took place or if the contract with the supplier has been renegotiated to include data sharing provisions or clauses requiring compliance with pre-negotiated targets.
It’s important when building out KPIs that they outline the business transition needed to reach long-term goals and build trust with stakeholders.
In the above case, by integrating the suppliers into their KPI planning from the outset of any contract negotiations, organisations can help define and align priorities, and manage expectations. A goal of an organisation’s procurement function should be to align their process to sustainability targets, such as deforestation free or net zero.
Ensuring ambitions are not solely focused on compliance
Focusing on the present is essential for managing day-to-day operations and compliance efforts, however organisations must not lose sight of the future and their long-term sustainability goals.
Those who take the time to understand the long-term impacts of climate change on both their business and wider industry, who prioritise sustainability as part of their purpose, and who secure the right to operate responsibly, will be far better equipped to navigate the challenges of the future.
Take the agriculture industry as an example, we are already witnessing climate change-related soil degradation and its impact on the nutrition of popular UK crops such as wheat, barley, potatoes, leading to not only decreased yields and reduced quality, but also less nutritionally viable food.
In light of this, agricultural organisations will need to begin heavily strategising metrics around biodiversity monitoring, water usage, responsible material sourcing and supply chain transparency if they wish successful harvests in the future.
Making personal sustainable choices
With sustainability taking centre stage within our professional lives, we sometimes forget about the actions we can take within our personal lives to fight climate inaction and to ease climate anxiety. I feel it’s important to reflect long-term thinking into our homes, too, as our personal sustainable choices can have just as big as an impact on the future of our society and how we feel about progress.
UK households are a big emitter of greenhouse gases – accounting for around 17% of carbon dioxide emissions in the UK – with heating, food, transport, electricity usage and internet contributing most to this.
By implementing simple changes in our personal and household routines, we too can contribute to building industry momentum behind reducing overconsumption. Little things, like buy less and choosing items with reduced or no packaging at the grocery store, washing clothes at 30°C with biodegradable detergent, turning down the thermostat, spending less time in the shower, or using efficiency apps to understand your carbon footprint across the items you do purchase, can make all the difference in the future.
We stand at a critical juncture, where immediate and sustained change is essential to mitigate the worst impacts of climate change and build a sustainable and resilient future.
Organisations and individuals must understand that taking action is no longer a vague promise we can make for the future; our survival and prosperity rely on us making that promise tangible today.
By thinking long term and considering the future impact of our professional and individual actions, we can actively participate in creating a legacy of environmental responsibility, and pave the way for a greener, more resilient future for all.
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