In our last blog, we talked to Harry Young-Jamieson of St Eval Candle Co, and looked at how a sustainable approach to business, and environmentally and socially responsible employees, have been big contributors to their recent Queen’s Award for Enterprise for Sustainable Development.
What exactly is sustainability, anyway?
Generally, when we talk about sustainability, people have a vision in their head of conserving and enhancing the natural environment – treading lightly on our planet in a manner that can be sustained, rather than causing further damage. It also refers to the need to enable “all people to realise their potential and to improve their quality of life” (Forum for the Future). Thus, sustainability, the environment and wellbeing are all inter-connected.
St Eval are one of many companies who are a shining star in the drive for sustainability, but for many organisations, figuring out how to link their operations and their employees’ daily work to their employees’ values as well as providing support for sustainability has proven challenging. In many cases it is not the why where there is an issue, but in the how of embedding that sustainability that the challenge lies. It can be difficult to operationalise those sustainability goals, even where the drive and desire to do so is high. The saying “you can lead a horse to water but you cannot make it drink” is apt in this situation, and applies to the environmental effort being made worldwide, just as much as it applies to the small business where the need to become more sustainable is great, but the buy-in is low.
One of the solutions may be “ownership”. Where sustainability is failing, often there is an attitude within the business that it’s “someone else’s problem”. The business creates policies – but the follow through on those is often low and tails off until it has become just talk, and no-one is walking the walk. A degree of an edict coming down from on high, a sense of “we’ve done our bit, now do yours”, and then engagement tails off.
Naturally, not all business are in a position to create a new environment around them like St Eval have, but there still needs to be a feeling engendered in all of “we all have a part to play, and only we can play it”. 24% of the UK workforce is made up of Generation Z (those born between 1996 and 2012) and Cone’s 2017 Gen Z corporate social responsibility study found that 94% of those asked would consider the social purpose of a company when deciding where to work. Social purpose being where the enduring reason for the business existing is to create a better world and/or delivering value and meaning for their customers, employees, and other stakeholders. Opportunities that can be provided to employees include things like volunteering, cycle-to-work schemes, switch-off campaigns, giving them a social purpose at a scale that has a greater impact. By contrast, half-hearted attempts to be socially responsible are neither going to make the employees feel engaged, nor encourage them to stay. Failure to identify and tackle the integrated qualities of sustainability, focussing on the preservation of the environment whilst ensuring the wellbeing of the future generation, will risk losing out on this value-driven future workforce.
So how do we become a sustainable employer?
A 2018 article by CB Bhattacharya in the Harvard Business Review suggest that a three-phase framework of incubate, launch, and entrench could be employed to create sustainability ownership.
Incubate –First define what your sustainability domain is by reflecting on what the social purpose of your business is, researching the material issues the business faces and creating a list of areas where sustainability can be developed. This is by and large the easiest phase, but is usually where the drive for sustainability runs out of steam
Launch – Once you’ve identified what you need/want to do to drive sustainability, make sure that the proper training and systems are put in place to enable everyone to make sustainability part of their job, and then market your ideas to your stakeholders – your employees, your suppliers, your customers – and set the idea of ownership in motion. It is critical make sure that everyone is involved, and everyone plays their part in contributing to the overall sustainability goals– sustainability should not be allocated to one individual in the corner of the admin office.
Entrench – Measure your success and provide ongoing feedback to everyone to make the sustainability a part of the everyday routine, a second nature rather than a conscious decision, and show that the efforts are paying off. Knowing that switching that light off for 20 minutes a day has saved X pounds per month, and reduced the businesses carbon footprint by Y grams of CO2 further encourages engagement and entrenches the idea that sustainability is the responsibility of and owned by all. (Carbonfootprint.com and carbontrust.com are websites with free Carbon Footprint Calculators for businesses).
Sustainability and Social Purpose are not embedded overnight, but set the wheels in motion, follow through and provide feedback, and in time you too may have your own proverbial chamomile meadow and a happy, engaged, and retained workforce.
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