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Almost every company has realized that sustainability isn’t just a contemporary buzzword. Regulatory requirements like the CSRD and growing customer and employee demands on transparency push organizations to clarify their actual impact and to report their efforts to improve sustainability. Driven by these demands, organizations often start by developing a strategy, targets and a reporting framework. But is that enough? While 86% of companies have a sustainability strategy, only 35% have taken action on that strategy.1

In many cases, little attention is paid to the necessary culture and behaviour. The inconvenient consequence? Your strategy is likely to fail. Recent research shows that business leaders see culture as the number 1 barrier for achieving the organizations’ sustainability goals, and leadership commitment and capabilities as the number 5 barrier, right after lack of funding and resources, external policies and regulations and rates of change.2

Let’s look at a few examples that you might recognize:

  • Your company set concrete sustainability targets, however, these are not integrated in the overall target framework. During performance dialogues only the financial KPI’s are being addressed. Consequent steering and leadership focus are missing.
  • Your sustainability strategy requires building new partnerships and exploring new opportunities in the market, yet your organization’s culture is characterized by an overly focus on planning and control and internal processes and procedures. Your current culture is not encouraging the change needed.
  • Every department in your company has to come up with their contribution to the overall sustainability strategy. However, the right knowledge and skills about sustainability is lacking, and colleagues can’t think beyond organic coffee cups and a vegetarian lunch. The sustainability initiatives they come up with are first steps, but not impactful enough to drive real change.

Designing a decent strategy or setting up the right reporting lines does not necessarily guarantee success. So, how to prevent your sustainability strategy from becoming a ‘tick the box’-exercise?

Wherever you are in your sustainability journey as an organization; it’s really helpful to know where you stand, what your ambition looks like and what is needed to actually get there. If you truly want to make steps in further maturing as an organization in your sustainability efforts, you need to have insight into four different perspectives:

  1. Strategy: to what extent is your company’s vision on sustainability clear for all employees and external stakeholders? And to what extent is the sustainability strategy integrated in the overall strategy?
  2. Organization: to what extent does the way you’re organized support that vision and realization of the strategy?
  3. Culture: to what extent are your leaders and employees aware, engaged and do they have the right knowledge & skills?
  4. Brand: and last, but not least, to what extent do your customers and society perceive your brand to play a role in the sustainability transition?

A compact Sustainability Maturity Scan provides you with insight in the maturity level of your organization of each of these perspectives.

The scan is based on different data-points: a survey, interviews and the review of existing documents. The outcome of the scan sparks the right dialogue about your approach to realize your ambitions. It is to be used as a starting point, or as a thermometer if you already took off.

Depending on the outcomes of the maturity scan, a process with clear steps can be defined in order to set the right conditions for change.

Examples are:

  • Strategy: organize deeper dialogues to set or adjust your sustainability vision and strategy and develop a compelling change story
  • Organization: add a sustainability angle to the decision making process or set up the right sustainability governance
  • Culture: develop your leaders and activate employees in their behavior
  • Brand: align your brand activations with your sustainability efforts and activate your customers in their behaviour

In short: yes, you do need to have the basics in place with regards to strategy, impact measurement and reporting. But to truly accelerate your sustainability journey and to grow your competitive edge you need to have insight in where you stand on every aspect. And don’t forget: a chain is as strong as its weakest link. Since culture is seen as barrier number 1, we believe that building the right culture to achieve your sustainability ambition should be your top priority.

Want to know how to work on every aspect?

In our following blogs we will deep-dive on a few specific themes like:

  • What leadership traits are essential for the sustainability transition and how do we equip our leaders?
  • How do we activate our employees and how can we use scalable knowledge and skill building solutions?
  • How do we implement the governance and steering mechanisms for sustainability?
  • How do we design the right decision making processes?

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