April 16, 2021
Corporate Sustainability in Practice
Corporate sustainability starts with a vision, expands to a strategy, develops into a plan of action, and results in incremental real change over time. Corporate sustainability professionals, such as myself, aim to create long-term value for any enterprise through specific business applications focused on environmental, social and governance (ESG).
Developing a corporate sustainability program within an enterprise starts with a vision at the board level to explore alignment with the values of the triple bottom line (people, planet and profit). Then, sustainability professionals expand this vision into a strategy focused on analyzing the business: its environmental impact/implications, social impact/implications, and overall governance structure such as procurement policies, hiring practices, etc. This ESG strategy is intended to foster transparency, accountability, and responsibility.
Transparency begins with understanding current practices across the enterprise through auditing, data gathering across resulting in clear benchmark creations and third-party data quality assurance and quality control checks. Accountability starts with establishing internal and maintaining external reporting protocols such as Global Reporting Initiative (GRI), Carbon Disclosure Project (CDP), or Task Force on Climate-related Financial Disclosure (TCFD) to name a few. Responsibility begins once transparency and accountability become the norm within an enterprise. Thus, ESG eases alignment with the values of the triple bottom line for a corporation.
In addition, addressing the “E” in ESG can result in a direct value for any enterprise. Sustainability professionals can quickly calculate the business impact of a decarbonization plan, so, consequently, a large sector of the sustainability industry focuses on energy/water reduction and waste diversion (also known as sustainable operations and development). Whilst the value of addressing the “S” and the “G” is abstract, yet that has not deterred sustainability professionals from attempting to quantify the financial value of pronounced social and governance strategy. Plus, the adoption of United Nations Sustainable Development Goals and the global pandemic definitely pushed corporations to have a constructive conversation on all the components within ESG.
Even though corporate sustainability is an ongoing process, launching a corporate sustainability program (depending on the motivation and agility of the enterprise) can take anywhere from 12 to 36 months. As an enterprise goes through the various stages of corporate sustainability (visioning, strategizing, planning and action) and exceeds its own targets, additional targets are automatically set due to transparency, accountability and responsibility; this is when the triple bottom line goes from a business value to a business practice.