Real Leaders

4 Ways to Lead Your Organization Into a More Sustainable Future

Over the past several years, consumers have become more conscious about their purchases than ever.

According to the Global Sustainability Study 2021, 85% of consumers across the globe had made more sustainable purchases over the previous five years, and sustainability is now a top purchasing criterion among 60% of all consumers. The sustainability movement has gained a lot of traction in recent years, and the consumer call to support sustainable companies has grown.

In fact, while there was a concern that the pandemic detracted from efforts to address the climate change crisis, the opposite has actually occurred. Gen Z adults cited environmental protection as their top personal concern in 2021, and they are now demanding sustainability and ethical practices from the brands they trust. Reflecting consumers’ concerns ahead of the United Nations’ 2021 COP26 Climate Change Conference, more than 1,000 companies announced they would reduce emissions in line with the goals of the Paris Agreement. Today’s consumers expect more from the companies they work with; they want to engage with brands that care about them, the climate, and the future. And companies are increasingly heeding the call.

As a leader, it’s essential for you to embrace sustainability as a core value in order to connect with more consumers and increase trust in your company. As more and more people focus on making purchases that benefit the environment and the earth, it becomes crucial to gain company buy-in for putting sustainability at your organization’s center. By prioritizing sustainability throughout your company, suppliers, and distributors, you can successfully navigate the sustainability landscape and drive your business forward.

The Importance of Prioritizing Sustainability Initiatives

This should go without saying, but the path toward sustainability requires more than raising awareness within your organization. Sustainability success also hinges on consciously working every day to limit the amounts of waste produced and resources consumed. Even the smallest steps matter in terms of sustainability. Consistency is key.

While sustainability requires a lot of self-examination and nuanced work, it helps to focus on the benefits of sustainability and waste reduction efforts. Globally, 1.3 billion tons of food per year are discarded. Wasted food means wasted fertilizer, fuel, water, and manpower. This model is far from sustainable, so reducing the amount of food wasted, even by a few percentage points, would be an improvement.

Additionally, it’s important to make animal feed safer. Doing so improves the health of animals, which means more efficient production of meat, milk, fiber, and more. Better production means a greater ability to produce enough food to feed the world’s population with less land and fewer inputs. The key to lasting change is helping companies reach metric-based goals that are actually attainable.

Strategies for Actualizing Sustainability Efforts

As you can see, it’s becoming even more important for organizations to drive sustainability forward. If your organization has never focused on sustainability, however, it can be difficult to know where to start. To make sustainability initiatives a greater focus in your organization, these are a few steps to consider implementing right now:

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1. Get the board of directors on board.

Bank of America’s Brian Moynihan once said, “What matters to society matters to investors.” If investors aren’t buying your initiatives, then your ideas will die before takeoff. To secure buy-in, tell them what you are going to do, how it’s going to get done, and why you are doing it. These are seemingly very simple steps, but they are extremely important for short-term value creation. Once the board understands what you are doing, make sure your management team believes in your sustainability efforts. From there, work to get support from your entire employee base.

2. Define your goals.

Sustainability initiatives are more likely to succeed if they are defined to be specific, achievable, and measurable. What are your organization’s goals? Which outcomes are you trying to achieve, and how will you measure progress? Identify specific benchmarks for your organization so that everyone on your team sees the “finish line” — and the mile markers of progress along the way — before the project even starts.

3. Educate your employees.

Successful sustainability initiatives depend largely on your organization’s change management. Taking steps toward a sustainable future requires leading the changes from the top down, which means that you should take the time to educate your employees about the importance of sustainability and why your company is choosing sustainability for the future. Company buy-in does not happen on its own. Rather, you have to lead by example and show your employees why what you are doing is worth it.

4. Steel your supply chain.

The transition to more sustainable operations requires the manufacturers of certain commodities to use sustainable practices. Many retail companies, such as Walmart, are working with their suppliers to reduce carbon emissions across the board. In fact, the company has worked to give suppliers the resources necessary to make progress toward its climate strategy. Through its Project Gigaton, Walmart is more than halfway toward its goal of reducing 1 gigaton — or 1 billion metric tons — of greenhouse gas emissions from its global value chain. While it’s challenging to reach the goal of net zero across the supply chain, collaboration is key to getting closer to that goal.

Sustainability efforts require more than a few people on board. They require support from the entire company, as well as your suppliers. By adequately preparing all stakeholders for your sustainability initiatives, you will create a realistic sustainability plan that people can support for years to come.

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