Embracing Sustainability – Leveraging your corporate responsibility to benefit your business

By Robert Brown

To many of us, climate change evokes a certain element of mystery. To others in regions of extreme weather it induces a sense of great terror. Extreme weather events are a major consequence of climate change, and are becoming more frequent, severe and erratic.

For its part the EU has set each member state clearly defined climate change targets aimed at cutting greenhouse gas emissions, increasing energy consumption from renewable energy, and enhancing energy efficiency, with the aim of turning Europe into a highly energy efficient and low-carbon economy.

While Governments have largely been at the forefront of climate change action to date, businesses are now beginning to drive the next phase of action as part of their own corporate responsibility agendas.

Recently we’ve seen a number of companies put renewable energy at the centre of their corporate responsibility programmes. Companies are no longer looking for quick wins either; they’re showing long-term commitment to causes which complement and enhance their own reputations. 

One such example was Apple’s decision to power its newly planned €850 million data centre in Ireland entirely by locally sourced renewable energy. The decision will see the energy intensive technology giant either invest directly in renewable energy infrastructure, likely a wind farm, or to purchase renewable energy directly from existing energy providers.

Apple say that they “don’t want to debate climate change, they want to stop it.” 100 percent of their US operations and 87 percent of their global operations are now powered entirely by renewable energy, proving truth in what they say.

Likewise IKEA have committed to investing €1.5 billion in renewable energy by the end of 2015, while also pledging further significant funds to developing renewable energy and to helping people in places affected by climate change.

It’s clear that businesses are now looking to enhance their reputations as corporate citizens who do more than their fair share for the environment, while also contributing positively to their operations. We are witnessing a paradigm shift whereby companies are increasingly aligning societal goals with business strategy.

While on the face of it these societal goals may seem noble and generous, some businesses are successfully leveraging their accomplishments to enhance their reputations, and ultimately their bottom line. Look no further than Ben & Jerry’s who have intelligently managed to convince consumers that we can help save the world by buying delicious ice-cream. One of their latest sustainability projects has seen them convert bi-product waste directly into energy on-site at the brand’s production facility in the Netherlands; reducing waste but also cleverly saving on energy costs.

What has essentially transpired is the birth of a new determining factor for customers, another reason to choose one product over another.

If you are going to go down the same route as some of the companies mentioned above, the key is to enable your businesses to win trust, respect and admiration from the people that matter; your stakeholders.

To do this, you must:

  • Identify the issues that your stakeholders expect your organisation to address;
  • Identify the underlying risks and opportunities to your organisation by addressing these issues;
  • Develop a concept which creates shared value, benefitting your organisation, and addressing the issue;
  • Develop a sustainability framework which outlines your commitments, and the means by which you will engage with stakeholders;
  • Implement a strategy to ensure that your stakeholders care about your sustainability programme and are captivated by your action;
  • Ensure that you have the right people and structures in place to facilitate effective action.

One last piece of advice; find the shared value and commit to it for the right reasons. Addressing an issue which carries shared value for all parties involved is one which will sit most effectively in a business strategy, rather than a year end responsibility report. While doing it for the right reason is more likely to resonate with your stakeholders, which ultimately is the aim of the game.

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