What’s Your Unique Sustainability Story?
If your company has become a more sustainable and greener business, you have a powerful and beneficial story to share with your employees, customers, partners and investors. Your “sustainability story” includes your sustainability mission, the commitments you’ve made, the initiatives you’ve completed and the list of your accomplishments. Telling this story in the right way to the right audiences will improve your reputation, elevate your brand, draw in new customers, attract great employees and promote a more sustainable ecosystem around you.
This article focuses on the approach we recommend to our Green Business Bureau (GBB) members for defining, prioritizing and sharing your business’s sustainable commitments as a key part of an overall sustainability story.
Document and Share Your Sustainability Commitments
The GBB EcoProfile includes a Commitments section following the Mission Statement. This section is used to summarize the main goals of your sustainability program via a list of prioritized commitments. It can include commitments related to being more energy efficient, reducing waste, reducing your carbon footprint, minimizing pollution, eliminating plastic, changing how you manufacture, and sourcing from other sustainable companies.
Your sustainability commitments should always be ‘in support of’ and ‘add specificity’ to your green mission statement. After all, you’re telling a holistic story about your journey and program. All the pieces need to be tied together, and the commitments you communicate should be focused on the primary sustainability drivers for your industry and company. They should be the most impactful initiatives after analyzing your operations, materials, manufacturing, products, services, business functions, supply chain, policies and procedures.
Before you get started drafting your GBB Commitments, it’s important to note that each GBB Commitment in your EcoProfile will include two parts: a Headline and a Description – with the headline providing a very brief statement of commitment, and the description section providing additional detail about how your business defines the commitment; how you’ll measure successful achievement of the commitment; and the specific actions your business will undertake to meet the commitment.
Best Practices for Defining Sustainable Commitments
The following section provides best-practice guidelines for defining and sharing your company’s sustainable commitments. Sustainable Commitments should be:
A Brief List
Keep your list of sustainable commitments fairly short. GBB believes that most companies should focus on 4-6 commitments to ensure the defined objectives are both high-priority and actionable. Commitments can and should be updated periodically, and If implemented properly, today’s commitments will be met – becoming tomorrow’s achievements.
Your company’s environmental commitments should define the detailed actions your business plans to carry out in support of your environmental mission, and like all well-defined objectives, they should be focused and specific.
Grounded In Action
Well defined and impactful sustainable commitments are always built from the specific actions the business plans to undertake to reach its stated goal, with practical effort-based commitments winning out to lofty but poorly defined sustainable aspirations. In practical terms this means that any draft commitment that can’t be linked to clear and concrete efforts your company can implement to achieve the commitment, is really just a hope or aspiration and should be refined to align with execution that is achievable.
Within Your Control
While it may seem evident that your company’s sustainable commitments should always be linked directly to efforts and actions your company directly controls, in practice, companies often strive to make changes they don’t actually have the ability to deliver due to external factors. Examples of these factors include rental agreements that limit a company’s ability to invest in facility improvements, long term supplier contracts or market conditions that limit the availability of alternative products and services, and mismatched employee incentives to changing business practices. In time, these external variables may change and enable your business to update its sustainable commitments, but until they do, your business is best served by defining commitments within its control.
Bold But Achievable
When it comes to sustainability, we’re often compelled to make bold promises – huge challenges require ambitious commitments. While the motivation to make bold commitments is laudable, bold promises often take the form unrealistic hopes with low likelihood of success. In order to strike the proper bold-but-achievable balance GBB encourages members to make sustainable commitments that are bold enough to be strategically central to their business, but are also within their reach through concerted effort and sustained focus.
Appropriately Time Based
Multinational corporations have made a habit of drafting long term strategic sustainability commitments with decades-long timelines, including promises to be carbon neutral (or negative) in 2030 or 2040. For most small- and mid-sized companies, it’s entirely impractical to set ten or twenty year performance targets. GBB encourages members to define commitments that set a time for completion to ensure they’re specific and actionable. We also suggest a mix of short, mid and long term commitments that make sense to your organization’s operational timescale. For some, a long term commitment may be 2-3 years in the future, while for others, that’s a mid or even short term timeframe due to size and your company’s pace of innovation and adoption. The key is to set target dates that ‘make sense’ for your business and follow other best practices we’ve outlined in this article.
Aligned with Company Purpose and Strategy
Creating and achieving your company’s sustainable commitments should be a process that uniquely mirrors your company’s mission, market conditions and operational variables. Great companies understand that to make the biggest positive impact, they should focus on improving in areas that are core to their strategy. A retailer may find its greatest positive impact to be in improving the sustainability of the products it sells, while a tech company may focus on green energy in its technology infrastructure and office space. The key is for each company to understand what makes it unique, and to define commitments accordingly.
By providing member companies with an easy-to-use online solution for sharing their sustainability story in a credible way verified by a trusted 3rd party, GBB hopes that all of our member companies will use the new EcoProfile tools to articulate sustainability priorities and drivers, share their green mission statement and commitments, and promote their improvements and accomplishments as they progress.
Becoming a truly sustainable business is not easy, but we believe that by defining and publicly sharing your business’s sustainable commitments and then using those commitments to guide action, your company will earn the benefits that come along with being a leader in sustainability. The GBB Ecoprofile provides the ideal way to tell that story and be recognized as a leader in sustainable business.