Still in the 90’s, it was a forerunner’s choice to start studying environmental management in business school. The topic was something new, rising, and definitely blurry in business, and not a measurable part of business strategy at all. Market mechanisms and regulatory work were only starting to get formulated, and common practices were not in place.
Over the last two decades, sustainability has gone through quite an evolution. There is a certain common understanding of the entities, “slides of the wide sustainability umbrella”. It is a great pleasure to see, how today sustainability is an integrated part of thinking and also an enabler and accelerator of business – due to the fact that all relevant stakeholders, such as customers, decision-makers, investors, and financiers, have taken it into their agenda as a defining and required way of working.
But still, the work continues, and the direction is clear – every day sustainability becomes a more and more important business factor.
My tips on how to get started:
1. Understand Your Company's Impacts and The Possibilities
In running strategic sustainability work, start from the home base. It is important to first understand the starting point and your company’s mission: What is our impact and how do we get there? Use some wide framework, such as UN SDGs to map the important sliders of your sustainability umbrella. Making this clear is a base for setting realistic targets and building a plan on how to achieve them.
At Paptic we’ve recognized the key drivers that push our strategic work and justify our existence – we as a company are being established to provide a sustainable solution to recognized problems, such as the need to:
- Reduce fossil plastics in packaging - as it is a root cause of plastic waste and microplastics.
- Act resource-efficiently - make a shift to renewable and recyclable, i.e., circular solutions.
- Mitigate climate change and safeguard biodiversity.
In an SME sized company, all necessary expertise might not exist internally, so I advise you to network actively. We face the same challenges, and valuable insights and tips are openly shared. It's also worth investigating industry-specific sustainability associations with whom you share the same mission and see if you could join in. I have found it beneficial to follow carefully various organizations such as the UN Global Compact Network, industry groups, or specialized experts, as they feed me with fresh insights.
3. Be aware and act promptly – but everything does not need to be completed immediately
Stay ahead and aware of the upcoming regulations, your customers’ hot topics in sustainability, and your industry’s sustainability development. Discuss with people: Ask for information, ask for opinions and insights, and participate in reflection.
Based on your findings, make your plan, and in planning keep your focus on the future and proactive actions rather than just on the present moment and acting reactively. Make all your colleagues sustainability ambassadors. Help them recognize how they act towards the common targets with their own work. Doing good things is a great motivator for great people!
Make a clear plan for the upcoming years. You don't have to accomplish everything right away. Accept the fact that it is often a question of resourcing in the short run, but thinking sustainability strategically is a question of a longer time span.
4. Don’t hide your sustainability work – show its importance in making a sustainable business!
Don't unnecessarily hide your ambitious sustainability work and plans; share them with your stakeholders. And keep repeating it! This is the way to show the commitment and direction of your sustainability work.
5. Think big. Be widely aware. Be part of the global thinking and progress. Be brave to focus on the relevant. Believe it matters until you see it.
Chief Sustainability Officer