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Make a Difference 2021

How can businesses ensure sustainability transformation is maintained?

iStock / Getty Images Plus / Wavebreakmedia

Tomás Sercovich

CEO, Business in the Community Ireland 

If we want to be truly sustainable, we need to change the business model and decision making process.

After more than 20 years promoting the CSR and sustainability agenda in Ireland, we can say that sustainability has become mainstream.  

Sustainability is influencing boards and CEOs, impacting on recruitment practices, customer communications, investor briefings and outreach community programmes. Sustainability roles are being created and now there are plenty of openings, in most cases, for newly created positions.  

Sustainability is a journey of growth, learning, successes and sometimes failure.

Addressing sustainability challenges  

While this sustainability explosion is much welcomed, the increase in sustainability activity has been met by increased cynicism, accusations of greenwashing or lack of authenticity. Business leaders are puzzled that their actions are not always met by support from staff, customers or public opinion.  

We need to sustain the sustainability transformation and we want to share some key ideas to ensure it is truly embedded: 

  1. We need long-term vision and integrated thinking: sustainability cannot exist as a separate strategy from the main business plan. Companies need to revisit their purpose and vision and see how sustainability influences their business model and ways of working.  
  1. Sustainability is everybody’s business: having a sustainability expert is fundamental to embed social and environmental considerations. However, the sustainability expert coordinates initiatives, supports disclosure and engages with critical stakeholders. For sustainability to succeed, it needs to be visible at the board level, it needs to be in the C-suite and it requires champions at the level of divisions, teams and sites.  
  1. Tell the story: sustainability is a journey of growth, learning, successes and sometimes failure. For sustainability to be credible and engaging, it must tell a story. PR and marketing are great tools, but winning the hearts and minds of investors, employees and customers also requires honesty and transparency.  
  1. You cannot do it alone: probably the most critical, if we want to really make change happen, we need to collaborate and partner with like-minded companies and other stakeholders. We need to use the collective voice of business to generate systemic change, change beyond the four walls of our organisations. 

Sustainable businesses won’t be successful and profitable if they operate in an ecosystem that does not align with the mounting urgency to address our fundamental social and environmental challenges. The time for action is now.  

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