Your sustainability culture can be strong or weak. A strong one exists if people share a belief in sustainability’s importance and behave in ways that support it — including making decisions that balance long-term considerations with short-term needs. People see it as a priority rather than a pipe dream and don’t often throw it by the wayside in favor of other objectives.
A strong sustainability culture exists when …
1. Understand the sustainability imperative
Environmentalism is vital but doesn’t resonate with everybody. Fact is, most everyone has serious reasons to care about sustainability. Climate change affects everything from water and food to human migration and war, and from economies and supply chains to customer and investor pressures.
2. Establish and follow a sustainability vision
It is time for a game-changing swing into serious action. Most businesses need to strengthen their sustainability actions and redo their plans.
Your sustainability vision could describe your aspirations, culture and highest-leverage sustainability niches focused on particular sectors, goods, services or customer segments. A compelling vision offers a sense of meaning and purpose, plus guidance for your strategies, goals and values. It is not a one-off exercise, but a long-term guiding light that inspires people and helps coordinate collective action.
3. Face reality, without sugarcoating
Executives often think their companies are doing better than they actually are in their sustainability pursuits. Companies around the world are vastly understating the risks that climate change poses to their business. A just-published study using data from the disclosures of more than 1,600 global companies showed that they collectively under-report the financial implications of climate risks to investors by at least 100 times.
We have downplayed off-putting climate estimates and failed to take urgent action for far too long.
4. Embed sustainability in decision-making processes
Important decisions rarely are easy, but they become far more complicated when sustainability seriously enters the picture.
Sustainability is culturally ingrained when it enters into major decisions of every type.
Many technical tools, software platforms, methodologies and systems exist for supporting and structuring sustainability decisions using quantifiable criteria. To employ some of them is a good step, but they do not comprise a true sustainability culture.
In a true sustainability culture, people discuss the issue explicitly and embed it in decision-making processes. To make a business case for an action is to take an integrative view that jointly considers profit, people and the planet. Sustainability is culturally ingrained when it enters into major decisions of every type: corporate and business strategies and performance goals at every organizational level, in every function, and core managerial processes and operations.
5. Engage fully
A strong culture motivates people in desirable directions. You want a culture in which people feel responsible for contributing to the changes you want, feel empowered to act on behalf of sustainability and realize multiple types of rewards for their sustainability contributions.