Sustainability goals and striving for net zero has remained a focus for organizations, as businesses are under pressure to develop sustainability targets and sustained outcomes. Organizations in a myriad of fields will have to reassess how they approach sustainability to become a more purpose-led business.
Purpose-led organizations articulate why their business matters, as well as the value the organization brings to stakeholders. A purpose-driven business stands for and takes action on something much bigger than its products and services.
Calls for change from consumers, investors, regulators and their own employees are driving sustainability as a priority for business leaders. However, progress toward achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) by 2030 has been slowed by global crises, according to the World Economic Forum (WEF). Meeting sustainability goals is undermined by geopolitical and geoeconomic issues, while also being impacted by a lack of urgently developing well-defined plans of action for sustained outcomes by individual businesses.
Sluggish sustainability approaches
While reaching sustainability goals and building on sustainability strategies hasn’t stalled completely, we’re not quite moving at the pace needed. Speaking during a panel discussion at WEF 2024, Santhosh Jayaram, Global Head, Sustainability at HCLTech, highlighted an essential issue for organizations and their sustainability strategies.
“The progress around sustainability is losing momentum because the context of sustainability is not integrated when organizations are setting their goals and targets,” Jayaram said. He suggests that organizations may claim to be globally water positive—or returning more water to the source than they use—but this may not be equal across operations. The net result may add up to a positive outcome, however, some locations may be water positive while others are negative.
Jayaram also adds that it is important for businesses to consider what is material for them from a sustainability perspective and the challenges faced as well as what stakeholders want to see from the company.
“When we’re looking at companies to invest in, the first question that we ask is:, “what is material for you from a sustainability perspective and understanding that materiality, but also then importantly — what do the stakeholders want to see from that company?” mentioned Venetia Bell, Group Chief Sustainability Officer, Head, Strategy for Gulf International Bank during the session.
Organizations will need to develop a sustainability strategy through materiality assessments — which determines what is significant to the business — as well as stakeholder impact assessments. After devising the strategy, it is then vital to determine how to implement the strategy for the best outputs and outcomes for the organization, the people and the planet.
Moving the needle on sustainability
Beyond looking at what is material to the organization for sustainability, maintaining open channels of communication in the governance structure can be helpful in driving sustainability goals forward, Jayaram mentioned during the panel.
Establishing open channels of communication on sustainability within an organization starts with leadership.
“I think leadership matters. It’s not easy because there are so many upstream and downstream variables that are very complex,” said Head of Climate Ambition Initiatives for WEF, Pim Valdre.
Furthermore, there has to be consideration of individual stakeholders within the company: the employees. Educating employees on sustainability and why it is important to the company can help build a culture of sustainability practices throughout business, as well as in the communities in which they operate.
“You want to attract clients who believe in the same things you believe in the same way and you want to attract employees who believe in the same things you believe in,” added Neil Murray, Global CEO of Work Dynamics at JLL, during the panel. “I think if you can bring those things together, you build a community of aligned purpose. Then great things can happen.”
How tech can drive sustainability
In order for technology to drive sustainability, we must ensure that the technologies themselves don’t create more emissions than they’re trying to offset. Applying sustainable technologies across their products and services as well as their processes is an important opportunity for organizations.
As Jayaram mentioned: “Where I would be focused more is on the huge potential of how tech can drive sustainability.”
To satisfy growing concerns over the sustainability goals, organizations will have to redefine their approach to sustainability to become a more purpose-led business taking action on goals that go beyond products and services. By accounting for context, understanding what is most significant to the organization and considering stakeholders, organizations can keep sustainability efforts on track.