5 Ways to Build a Solid Sustainability Culture

Sustainability has reached a level of strategic imperative. The needed discourse is no longer about whether to incorporate sustainability into strategy and operations, or even how to do it — but how to do it better.

One person or organization can’t stop climate change, but each can make a significant impact. The realistic goal is not to prevent climate change, but to make progress. And organizations and the people in them can also change direction onto a better path to a stronger, sustainable future.

One solution, begging for more widespread application, is to develop a strong culture of sustainability in the business place or work place.

An organization’s culture is the set of important assumptions that its members share about its goals, values and beliefs, which in turn influence their behavior.  A strong sustainability culture exists if people share a belief in sustainability’s importance and behave in ways that support it by:

Establishing and Implementing a Sustainability Vision

Most businesses need to strengthen their sustainability actions and redo their plans.

A strong vision is not a cliché, not a set of generic boilerplate platitudes, not empty and cynical. It is likely to benefit from involving employees in the creation process, and from sharing it proudly, widely and often.

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.


Identifying the Challenges and Managing them

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 reflexively can discount such astonishing estimates when thinking about climate risks, financial risks and needed organizational change. However, we dismiss them at our peril. We have downplayed off-putting climate estimates and failed to take urgent action for far too long.


Embeding Sustainability In Decision-Making Processes

Sustainability is culturally ingrained when it enters into major decisions of every type. Important decisions rarely are easy, but they become far more complicated when sustainability seriously enters the picture.

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.

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.


Engaging 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.


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