Finding a ‘home’ for your sustainability implementation can sometimes be tricky.
You might have some keen individuals in your business, that have set up a green team and taken the lead in their lunch break or with their discretionary time.
You could have a certain function taking on the task, as they were the original touch point for business need to be more sustainable, but this might not be ‘sustainable… no pun intended.
This approach is OK in the very short term, but as the requests come in thicker and faster, where should the sustainability role sit within your existing Org chart? What do others do? How do you find the budget for it?
We will provide some insights into what we have seen since working with hundreds of businesses that are accelerating their sustainability. The most telling thing for us is it is NOT a one size fits all solution!
Which function would be best placed to take on Sustainability?
Often a starting position is a key individual who takes on the sustainability agenda as a ‘bolt on’ to their current role.
We see this a lot as not many businesses jump straight into creating a Sustainability Director, Manager or team before understanding the impacts, scope and workload required of the role.
Which functional area is best suited?
Here are some potential pros and cons for each function area when it comes to implementing sustainability:
- Sales teams often have a deep understanding of the company’s customers and can help identify opportunities for sustainability-related product or service offerings. They can also help communicate the company’s sustainability efforts to customers, which can enhance the company’s reputation and drive sales.
- Understanding the customer can be invaluable in terms of your sustainability programs and you can work together on join projects and develop combined innovative solutions.
- Sales teams may be more focused on short-term revenue generation than long-term sustainability goals and may not have the necessary expertise to design and implement sustainability programs.
- Typically, Sales teams spend most of their time in the ‘field’ with customers and may not have the required time to lead some of the evidence gathering and data collation.
- Human Resources
- HR teams are often responsible for employee training and development, which can include training on sustainability practices. They can also help design employee incentives and recognition programs that encourage and embed sustainability practices.
- HR teams may face challenges in allocating sufficient resources and time to sustainability initiatives while also managing other HR responsibilities.
- They might struggle to effectively communicate the importance and benefits of sustainability practices across the whole agenda to employees, resulting in limited buy-in and participation.
- Operations teams often have a deep understanding of the company’s supply chain and can help identify opportunities to reduce waste, increase efficiency, and reduce the company’s environmental impact. They can also help implement sustainability-related practices within the company’s facilities and operations.
- Operations typically is a data-heavy function, which could support, data collection.
- Supply Chain is responsible for between 80% and 90% of a manufacturing business’s carbon footprint. Operations would have the tools to unpick this and build an effective carbon reduction plan.
- Operations teams may encounter resistance to change from employees who are accustomed to traditional practices and may be resistant to adopting new sustainability measures.
- The implementation of sustainability practices within operations could potentially require significant upfront investments or restructuring, posing financial challenges for the company.
- Operations might have tunnel vision in terms to whole agenda and scope of work required.
- Finance teams can help identify the financial benefits of sustainability initiatives, such as cost savings from reduced energy consumption or waste reduction. They can also help secure funding for sustainability programs.
- They often lead teams of cross-functional individuals for project implementations, like ERP systems so could be well placed to take the lead on sustainability.
- Often they are the gatekeepers for key data collection processes that can be used to digitise many sustainability data collection processes.
- Finance teams may face difficulty in accurately measuring and quantifying the financial benefits of sustainability initiatives, making it challenging to build a compelling business case for their implementation.
- They might encounter resistance from senior management or other departments that prioritise short-term financial performance over long-term sustainability goals.
- Health and Safety
- Health and safety teams are often responsible for managing risks related to employee health and safety, which can include environmental risks. They can also help implement sustainability-related practices that improve employee health and safety.
- Health and safety teams might face resistance from employees who perceive sustainability practices as additional burdens or restrictions on their work processes.
- The integration of sustainability practices into health and safety protocols may require significant adjustments to existing procedures, potentially causing initial disruptions and delays.
- Compliance teams are frequently responsible for ensuring that the company complies with financial, safety and environmental regulations and can help identify opportunities to go beyond compliance and implement sustainability initiatives that align with regulatory requirements.
- They typically would have a view on upcoming, relevant regulations on ESG and sustainability. Their existing networks and professional bodies could be a good source of information.
- They typically have access points into most departments within a business, which they could use to drive sustainability.
- Compliance teams may struggle with the complex and evolving nature of sustainability regulations, making it challenging to stay updated and ensure full compliance.
- Balancing multiple compliance priorities may result in limited attention and resources available for implementing comprehensive sustainability programs.
Have we seen a common thread with our clients? No!
While working with our clients, we have seen examples of all the above functions taking the lead on Sustainability. There is no one size fits all model for sustainability, as the right choice depends on the specific needs and priorities of each business. However, we have noticed some key characteristics shared by successful sustainability leaders:
- They are influencers.Sustainability leaders demonstrate the qualities of influence, authority and credibility necessary to get support for sustainability initiatives within their organisations. They understand that simply advocating for sustainability is not enough; they must effectively communicate the business case for integrating sustainable practices into the company’s operations.
- They are open-minded. Effective sustainability leaders have an open-minded approach that enables them to embrace new ideas, perspectives, and possibilities. They recognise that sustainability is a complex and evolving field, requiring innovative thinking and adaptable strategies. They actively seek out diverse viewpoints and alternative solutions.
- They understand both the business and the landscape. They have a deep understanding of their organisation’s business operations, goals, and strategies. They recognise that sustainability initiatives must be seamlessly integrated into the fabric of the business, aligning with its core objectives. These individuals possess knowledge of the internal resources required to support sustainability programs effectively.
Overall, each function area can play a valuable role in implementing sustainability considerations within a business. However, it is important to ensure that whoever takes the lead, they have support from senior leadership to effectively lead sustainability initiatives.
Often a preferred option is to choose a leader and form a cross-functional team, allowing each function to contribute its unique perspective and expertise to sustainability efforts.
An Interim Solution?
Using an interim solution, such as engaging a sustainability consultant such as Sustainable X can provide significant benefits and accelerate your sustainability journey. Here’s why:
- Expertise and knowledge: Sustainability consultants or professionals possess specialised expertise and knowledge in sustainable practices, regulations, and industry trends. They can provide valuable guidance and insights to help you navigate the complexities of sustainability, ensuring that you adopt the most effective strategies and approaches.
- Tailored solutions: Sustainability consultants can assess your specific business needs and develop tailored solutions aligned with your goals and objectives. They can conduct comprehensive audits, identify opportunities for improvement, and design customised sustainability programs to address your unique challenges.
- Accelerated progress: They bring a fresh perspective and extensive experience, allowing you to tap into proven methodologies and best practices. This can save you time and effort, enabling you to achieve sustainable outcomes more efficiently.
- Strategic guidance: They can provide strategic guidance and support in developing a sustainability roadmap or action plan. They can help you set clear targets, define key performance indicators, and establish metrics for measuring progress. Their guidance ensures that sustainability becomes an integral part of your business strategy and operations.
- Building internal capacity:Interim sustainability solutions can also be an opportunity to build internal capacity. Sustainable X can provide training, workshops, and knowledge transfer sessions to empower your employees with sustainability skills and knowledge. This knowledge transfer equips your team with the tools they need to drive sustainability initiatives independently in the long run.
- Established networks. Access to proven solutions to challenges such as packaging, carbon management, diversity & inclusion etc. This fast-tracks execution and reduces the risk of using untested partners.
Engaging an interim sustainability consultant like Sustainable X can be a valuable investment, offering expertise, tailored solutions, accelerated progress, strategic guidance, and capacity building. Their support can kick-start or enhance your sustainability journey, enabling you to make meaningful progress towards your sustainability goals.
Ultimately, the decision of who takes the lead on sustainability depends on the business’s specific needs and priorities. In general, however, it is important to prioritise sustainability from the outset and to integrate sustainability considerations into the business’s operations and decision-making processes. This can help ensure that sustainability is a core part of the business’s culture and values and can drive long-term success and resilience.