More and more companies have recognized that they bear responsibility for their economic activities, and set themselves specific objectives to be more sustainable. Not least because of their size, corporations in particular are coming under pressure to be more sustainable. But in Switzerland especially, where over 99% of companies employ fewer than 250 employees, SMEs can have a real impact. So what should you do to make your company more sustainable as a whole, and how can you ensure your efforts aren’t just the proverbial drop in the ocean? This poses a multi-dimensional challenge seeing as sustainability is about more than just being environmentally friendly. This does make sustainable corporate management more complex and multifaceted, but it also gives you many leverage points, so to speak, that you can prioritize in line with your company values.
Five steps towards more sustainable corporate management
In this age of global warming and resource scarcity, sustainability has become a core issue. But it’s not just individuals who have to think about their attitude to the environment and society as a whole. Companies, too, are increasingly expected to make commitments to sustainability. We list the aspects which are particularly important for sustainable corporate management to achieve the desired effect.
What does sustainable corporate management mean exactly?
In the business context, the term “corporate social responsibility” (CSR) is commonplace. What this refers to is the social and environmental responsibility of a company. A model that is applied just as frequently is the “triple bottom line”. It divides a company’s responsibility into three areas:
Companies should save on resources and optimize all their processes to be more sustainable. This could be in their sourcing of raw materials, transport, energy management, selecting and utilizing the greenest IT solutions possible or disposal/recycling processes.
Companies must embrace their responsibility towards people. The key priority here is employees. Their interests must be taken into account, and a safe environment must be created that gives them long-term prospects and enables them to exercise their full potential. Some examples here are work/life balance, pension/healthcare benefits and development opportunities. In a broader sense, the social conditions of the suppliers’ employees are also important here. If the company is committed to social issues such as equality, mental health, education and so on, this also forms part of its social responsibility. Examples of this are social commitments, campaigns or political statements.
To put it simply, this refers to the revenue/profit a company generates to ensure its continued existence. Economic responsibility is about maintaining a far-sighted view, and prioritizing long-term objectives over short-term profits. Examples of activities that form part of a company’s economic responsibility include improving the value chain, securing liquidity and maintaining long-term customer relationships.
A step-by-step approach to achieving sustainability
If your aim is to achieve more sustainable corporate management, you are best off taking a step-by-step approach.
Step 1: Make a commitment and stick to it
Sustainability isn’t something that can simply be done on the side. If companies want to embrace their responsibility towards the environment and society as a whole from the ground up, Executive Boards must incorporate this commitment into their strategy, and ensure it is implemented throughout the company. In order for all employees to embrace sustainable principles, the management must lead by example. The best approach here is to directly embed your sustainability commitment into your vision, mission and guiding principles, as well as in your employee regulations, and to make sure your convictions are reflected in the day-to-day life of the business. By doing so, your employees will be able to identify with the drive towards sustainability, and they will have an easier time playing their part. Perhaps the employees themselves will call on the corporate management to improve their sustainability, or they may take their own initiatives. For instance, they might introduce a paperless office.
Step 2: Enter into a dialogue
As often as stakeholder interests may conflict with each other, the call for both eco-friendly and fair products and services is getting louder and louder. You will hardly be able to meet everyone’s expectations in equal measure, but it is well worth listening carefully. Try to grasp the needs of employees, customers, suppliers, investors and the public by entering into a dialogue with them.
Step 3: Set realistic objectives
Once you have clearly established your stakeholders’ expectations through dialogue with them, you have a complete outside perspective on your company, and you can now set out your objectives. The Executive Board should be in agreement over what effect they want their sustainability strategy to have, and they should set appropriate priorities. When setting these priorities, you may want to draw on the The link will open in a new window Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) of the United Nations at unric.org. They are in aid of the global plan to promote sustainable peace and prosperity, and the protection of our planet. The best way to define your objectives is using the SMART method. Also make sure you break down your objectives, and ideally define them per department so you can be effective as a team.
Step 4: Adopt measures
Tangible measures are needed to achieve your objectives. The more objectives and applicable measures you come up with for your company, the likelier it is you will need to prioritize them. After all, trying to implement all of them at the same time is ill advised. Experience tells us that it is more effective to tackle fewer measures at once, but to focus all your energy on them. By contrast, dedicating all your efforts to all your measures at the same time, and ultimately not succeeding in any of them due to lack of resources is less effective. In order to ascertain later on whether the measures you adopted contributed towards achieving your objectives, specific assessment criteria are required, such as the achieved reduction in electricity consumption.
Step 5: Measure progress and ensure transparent communication
Once the objectives and measures have been established, it will be clear to everyone involved what progress needs to be achieved, and by when. Take stock at designated times on a regular basis to assess the progress you have made, and adopt more measures if needed. For the sake of transparency, it is very important your stakeholders are kept informed of developments at all times – in other words not just when you have reached your objectives, but also if your company is behind schedule. If this is the case, you could explain what caused the delay, what you plan to do in response, or what you are already doing.