Reflections on sustainability in business

By: Jade Tipping

Early on the morning of Saturday 7th May, something remarkable happened. For 107 hours from 6:45am – nearly four and a half days straight – Portugal powered itself purely through solar, wind and hydro generated power. This incredible event is just one example of how several European countries are leading the world in using renewables. Denmark, Germany, and also the United Kingdom – for whom 11% of energy is now supplied by wind alone – are all hitting the news in the pursuit of sustainable energy.

Against this pertinent context, last week I attended edie.LIVE – one of the UK’s biggest conferences on energy, sustainability and resource efficiency. The day was filled with numerous, thought provoking seminars on a wide variety of topics, including concepts around applying sustainability in business.

A key message was that sustainability programmes are not solely the responsibility of ‘eco-warriors’. Organisations often do not define sustainability, a concept which can conjure up stereotypes of organic food and tree-hugging which can negatively impact organisational buy-in. However, the change and benefits that sustainability programmes provide are not just environmental and can be felt across the whole organisation. 

Therefore, the relevance of sustainability needs to be translated for different audiences. Speaking at edie.LIVE, Tim Haywood – Group Finance Director and Head of Sustainability at Interserve – highlighted the language barrier that exists when discussing sustainability in a way that also makes sense to the business decision-makers including Finance. The framing and discussion of sustainability is crucial to the buy-in of any audience. Tim used the example of sustainability being represented as multi-factorial risk management, including reputational, compliance, social and of course environmental risks. By discussing it in this way, external stakeholders can grasp sustainability in a language which speaks to them. What about internal stakeholders? Their main questions to answer are: What’s in it for me? Will I have to do anything differently? It is also important to sound out the team’s reservations so they can ask: How can I get involved?

Finally, any sustainability approach must be meaningful to the organisation, not just to implement for its own sake. At Sysdoc we are defining both the benefits of sustainability to the business and our clients by taking the time to ensure successful implementation into the business plan and by working out the measures required to achieve it. Assessing what this means for the triple bottom line is just one example of how we are making this work.

With more and more European nations following sustainability approaches, it is high time that European and world-wide businesses followed. Like Portugal, let’s all aim for our own “107 hours” and beyond, whether that be a new recycling initiative, creating a purpose-built sustainability function, or truly embedding a more resilient future focus in all that we do.


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