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Six Steps to Sustainability - Part 2

9 July, 2020
Crafting a Sustainable Future: Building Policy & Strategy

In my previous blog I talked about the importance of developing the sustainability baseline; this involved looking at materiality, data quality and data analysis.

I also talked about the importance of getting buy-in to the plan early on from the C-suite or senior managers where appropriate. If you don’t get this, you probably need a better, more financially focused plan.

In this blog I’m going to focus on Step 2 – Building Policy & Strategy, really focusing in on the importance of nailing these two positions.

It's very easy to be tempted to jump straight into writing a plan or focusing on an area without first taking that step back and really understanding what is material to your organisation and stakeholders. We covered a lot of this thinking in the previous blog. I often find business overlooks the importance of investing time in the policy and strategy. Looking for quick wins or ways to cut corners. If we are going to present a plan to senior management, it needs to be thorough and robust. It also needs to be meaningful and material.

This is why we start with the policy position.

Everything flows from here and everything needs to be aligned to this position. Reviewing annually as a minimum. Again this is not rocket science. Start with a statement around sustainability, why it is important to your organisation, why you have this policy. Then segment your policy into Environmental, Social and Governance, making commitments in line with those material factors you gathered while building your baseline.

If you don’t like that structure and are an old school sustainable development purist, you could structure it along Environment, Society and Economy for example. It's up to you!

For me, ESG is crisp, simple and an easy structure to communicate that covers the bases.

The policy itself is high-level commitment, you could talk about carbon neutrality, social equality, circularity. It's easy to use the policy to say what you won't do, how about saying what you will do! It's easy to say you will reduce your impact, why not say how you will improve instead?

A great exercise to do is to align your policy commitments with the SDGs*, then look at your coverage. I did this at a very high level with Sanne recently.

Once we have the policy, our strategy then describes how we will get there. If its not addressed in your policy, it doesn’t go in the strategy or action plan. As we plan our strategy we need to plan the targets we are going to set and how we will monitor our position. Again, use the policy to determine these data points. We are looking to qualify and quantify everything we put in the policy. We need to cost the economic impact of anything that goes in the strategy also. In some cases this might be a very simple business case calculation, others might require more detailed whole life costing.

It is Important we understand the policy family or framework that already exists in our business. How will this position interact with those policies? My argument will always be that the Sustainability/ESG policy is the mother of all policies! All other policies sit below it and are focused on specifics.

Once we have the policy and strategy, both our governance and on-going reporting and monitoring frameworks are specified. Of course these can be tweaked and evolved along the way but we now have the structure and base to really drive improvement from.

I’ll be back with the next instalment Step 3 - Implement Management System & Reporting Framework in the not too distant future – but in the meantime, feel free to contact us if you want to talk about sustainability in your organisation.

*Check out our short What is SDG's? module for further information on the Sustainable Development Goals.