Gone are the days when sustainability was a small part of Corporate Social Responsibility for business. Globally, sustainability challenges are becoming extremely material, reaching thresholds of importance to companies’ long-term strategies, to their customers, and external stakeholders. From increasing demand for natural resources to economic disparity to climate change, companies are facing a more complex array of trade-offs and risks across their value chains.
Of the world’s 100 largest economic entities, 63 are corporations, not countries.
Great power creates great expectations: society increasingly holds global businesses accountable as the only institutions strong enough to meet the huge long-term challenges facing our planet. Coming to grips with them is more than a corporate responsibility. It’s essential for corporate survival.
A new generation – the millennials, who make up for a large share of the market, are entering the society in force and they have very different priorities.
They do not want to be talked at; they want to be engaged in conversation and to co-create solutions.
They demand much greater accountability and transparency from the companies they engage with.
According to a Harvard Business Review article on employee engagement, millennials are "the most socially conscious generation since the 1960s.” The concept of purpose-driven work is increasingly correlated with professional fulfilment, which is a huge incentive for the companies to leverage.
There is an expanding importance by the workforce of the future to have jobs that have purpose and meaning, and they expect their employers to have sustainability programs and their company to make the world a better place. Employee and stakeholder engagement, hence, is more pertinent than ever before.
The practice of employee education and engagement on sustainability has spread rapidly and evolved into a more institutionalized element of companies’ broad sustainability strategies.
If you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it:
Often a question is asked on whether an individual can make a difference. Companies need to have a footprint calculator wherein an individual will be able to first measure or quantify the impacts in their day to day living. This helps an individual take an objective approach to reducing their impacts such as initiatives like ‘show em bills’ where there is a tangible benefit that encourages employees to show their energy and fuel consumption bills and demonstrate reduced consumption. Something like a viral hashtag for example: #slashthatfootprint – can involve switching off lights/ACs in the office for a period of time – once a week/month to reduce office footprint.
Random Act of Responsibility:
Companies use a wide range of tools to engage employees on sustainability. These could include encouraging employees to create personal sustainability plans and incorporate those into their everyday lives and even provide awards and recognition programs that reward measurable environmental improvements or demonstration of best-in-class practices
It is very important to inculcate a culture of responsibility within individuals. Some of initiatives can encourage employees to engage themselves in random acts of responsibilities like segregation of waste, carpooling, save paper campaigns as well as others such as ‘car-pool’ or climbing stairs instead of using elevators. Change in mass can show real benefits.
Communication is key:
To drive sustainability through the length and breadth of the organization and have visible impacts, communication is the key. Communicating effectively to your people gets you the first and the most important buy in. A company that believes in sustainability, will be able to collectively deliver much better results. In Brillio, we have continued to incorporate sustainability program communications into our internal communications network. We have also created working groups in our Business Units that not help us effectively communicate our programs but understand the results really well. Internal IMs and Apps have helped immensely. The domino effect of information has really helped our programs grow and become more robust. Most organizations around the world have substantially benefitted from internal communications on benefits achieved though employee sustainability programs.
Beyond keeping current employees engaged and happy, sustainability also can be a mechanism for recruiting. Stanford Social Innovation Review states that besides the financial benefits that sustainability practices like energy conservation provide, studies have found that employee retention, productivity, and overall engagement all go up.
Finally, although the challenges to sustainability are acute, there has never been a better time than the present for a company to play a critical role in helping to resolve them while building up its businesses.
Abhishek Ranjan, Global Sustainability Head – Brillio Technologies
Sandeep Roy Choudhury Co-Founder, VNV Advisory