Sustainability… its everyone’s business!

In 2019, a report by Accenture and UN Global Combat identified that 48% of CEOs are implementing sustainability into their operations. After a year of climate pledges from governments and multinational corporations, it is expected that this number will look even higher for 2020 and 2021.

For many of these CEOs, the first step will be to hire a Chief Sustainability Officer (CSO) to be the driving force in implementing sustainability. In the last year alone, Granger Reis has placed an increasing number of CSOs or sustainability managers for clients in the real estate and industrial market sectors. Hires such as these signal an important step in an organisation’s sustainability journey, but it does not end there. For a company to make its green ambitions and pledges a reality, it needs the cooperation and commitment of all its employees.

Sustainability initiatives should never be the sole responsibility of one or two people, but a collective company responsibility, integral to every role in the company. A technical engineer in the mining industry, for example, should consider how automation and maintenance can make their role both safer and cleaner, and how they procure technology from providers that reflect its environmental standards. Mechanics and operators should understand the value placed on how replacing parts to reduce wasted resources and fixing ineffective efficiency systems contributes to the company’s overall sustainability mission.

Creating a sense of collective responsibility may, in some cases, require a culture shift. Sustainability goals may not have always been baked into every role in the company, but with sustainability now forming a core part of a company’s purpose and mission, work will need to be done to create proactivity at all levels.


I spoke to NewmontMining’s Executive Vice President and Chief Operating Officer, Rob Atkinson. Newmont is the world’s leading gold mining operator and has been named “Mining’s Sustainability Leader” by the Dow Jones sustainability index, having been included in the index for the past 13 years. He notes “A culture shift needs to start from the top, from an energised and committed leadership team, but the key is engaging employees at all levels.” He told me that Newmont uses a global social networking tool to connect its employees and give everyone a space to share and ask questions about its sustainability ambitions. This builds curiosity, propagates ideas, and opens up conversations across its global community of employees. And the proof is evident. Newmont’s recent sustainability report boasted impressive results, including achieving 87% of its emissions reductions target six years into its seven-year timeframe.


We discussed this topic further with Janet Greenwood, Director, Infrastructure Advisory at KPMG UK. She adds “Communicating, informing, educating, empowering and unleashing potential are the first steps in responding to the issues we will need to address in the coming decade. In order to get good data and to embed consistent processes to help us reach net zero, we need people who have the skills, the opportunity and the motivation to deliver them.” To Janet, that means both hiring the right talent, and empowering existing employees to take ownership over sustainability initiatives, giving them the tools, training, and inspiration to do so.

But how do you inspire change in teams that have operated in the same way for years? Janet says, “Take the time to listen and understand what their blockers are” and embed climate commitments into the core of the business. She adds: “Performance reviews need to include personal targets. Business reporting cannot just be about cost and revenue it must also include carbon and environmental impact.”

In agreement with Rob, Janet also argues that leaders have a vital role to play in instilling a shared ownership view of sustainability, “Leaders need to step back and take a systems approach, looking at wider levers and influences. They need to recognise that the organisation is a network of people that might need to be reconfigured. That people need a space in which to share knowledge and ideas.”

By creating ownership, it is possible to revitalise an entire workforce and shift its focus towards your sustainability agenda. One example of this in action is at Unilever, which appointed sustainability ‘ambassadors’, equipping employees with the tools to be outward-facing sustainability ambassadors and inspirational Green Champions to catalyse internal change. 76% of Unilever’s 170,000 employees now feel their role at work enables them to contribute to delivering the sustainability agenda. About half of all employees entering the company at graduate level cite Unilever’s ethical and sustainability policies as the primary reason for wanting to join the company.

Offering up additional learning opportunities for employees can be an important way to build the knowledge-base and inspire proactivity amongst existing employees. For some, this might mean retraining staff in critical skills that will drive innovation in the company, for others it might be a greater understanding of how topics like diversity and inclusion processes can help the company achieve its sustainability goals.

By actively sharing and reinforcing their sustainability goals, businesses are likely to see more benefits than just meeting targets. Critically, you are likely to see an increase in employee engagement, leading to an increase in staff retention. From this, you can expect to see an increase in innovation and in many cases, profitability, with future customers and clients increasingly choosing to align with companies that share their values and help them meet their own sustainability goals. As in the case of Unilever, it can also have a marked impact on your attractiveness as an employer to future talent.

But more than just a ‘nice to meet’ business objective, this is a business imperative. Not hitting net zero goals by 2050 could result in catastrophic damage to our planet and irreversible change to the way we live. That is why sustainability is and must be everybody’s business.


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