We’ve all seen how quickly the world around us can change…here’s how to future proof your sustainability planning
What is a sustainability policy and why do I need one?
The UK government has committed to achieving net zero carbon emissions by 2050 – and businesses in both the public and private sector have a major role to play in this transition.
A sustainability policy demonstrates how your business will operate responsibly and ethically in the marketplace. This goes beyond how you’ll consider the environment and natural world around you and includes how you will interact with your employees, your suppliers and the wider society.
We’re seeing a welcome shift in business, where business owners and investors are bringing their values to work and leading with purpose toward a future that works for everyone. Research shows that there is growing demand among consumers for business to act responsibly and provide sustainable goods and services. But it’s also especially important for employees to do meaningful work that has a positive impact on people and the planet.
And, truthfully, it can be good for the bottom line. Many of the sustainability measures businesses put into place reduce waste and increase efficiencies – saving money in the long term. And depending on your business, investing in a sustainable supply chain can help you mitigate risk as the world around us continues to be disrupted with climate change-related extreme weather events, pandemics and socio-political upheavals.
Who is a sustainability policy for?
There are two key audiences for this document – your internal stakeholders and your external stakeholders.
Internal stakeholders certainly include your senior leadership team and specific departments that are directly impacted by these policies, like Legal and Procurement. But in reality, all of your employees have a role to play in integrating these policies into their everyday operations.
External stakeholders include everyone from investors and shareholders to your supply chain and even your customers.
Documenting your policies and making them publicly available on your website and in internal communications demonstrates your commitment and increases transparency.
What does a sustainability policy include?
For many people, when they hear the words ‘sustainability policy’, they immediately start thinking about improving their recycling scheme, switching to LED lights or reducing waste.
And it makes sense to want to dive into the details and map out the action plan. But the sustainability policy comes before that step. It sets out your intentions and the overarching framework that your business will take to operate in a sustainable way.
You want the document to be short – around one page is the right length– and easy to understand and communicate. And expect to iterate, this should be a living, breathing document, not something carved in stone once and set aside to gather dust on the shelf.
So what should you include?
Provide a short business overview and outline the overall aim of the policy
Identify the owner of the policy as well as those who are responsible for implementing it
Set out the principles governing your sustainability policy, including how you will
- comply with legislation and regulations
- monitor and improve your performance
- incorporate sustainability into business decisions
- train your employees
Identify three to five areas of the business that have significant environmental / societal impacts that you’ll be focusing on for the next year and identify the high level actions you’ll take
Provide transparency around when the policy will be reviewed and updated
Here are a few examples to get you started:
How do I future-proof my sustainability policy?
As mentioned, this is a living breathing document, not a done-and-dusted exercise we do once.
Once you’ve established your policy and you know the areas of the business you’re going to work on, create your action plan with SMART objectives and targets you’ll be measuring against.
Set up a working group to oversee the progress of the action plan and schedule regular meetings to review the impact of your policies.
Update the policy annually as you expand or adapt your focus into other areas of the business.
Consider becoming a certified B Corp or gaining an ISO 14001 certification to demonstrate your commitment to sustainable business operations and have a third-party vetted measurement framework.
Share your journey to a sustainable future with suppliers, customers and your local community to inspire conversation and identify new opportunities to make a positive difference.