Most of the people still believe that making a profit while being sustainable is complicated and time consuming. However, being sustainable has become a necessity and cannot be ignored anymore. Making profit while being sustainable is becoming easier and more accessible for any kind for companies in almost all industries. In fact, the hardest part is to properly integrate sustainability in the strategy. As for integrating technology in a strategy, one can also find the best methods to integrate sustainability. As one should not think about technology as an end in itself, but as a mean, the same applies to sustainability. The main idea is to know how one can use sustainability to achieve the organization’s strategic objectives. Sustainability should be a part of the strategy and not just considered nice supplement.
First, sustainability is mostly achieved when the company allow transparency within its functions and each function is responsible for being sustainable. Transparency will enable employees to always know how other employees are doing; they will understand the benefits of being sustainable and will try to apply the same concepts. This will give confidence that sustainability can be implemented by other departments so it could for all departments. It should be part of the integrated thinking of a company.
But sustainability also concerns the financial and accounting department. CFOs should not only focus on profits. They should understand that sustainability might be associated with some material risks, but the final value could be more interesting than if it not taken into consideration. The creation of a network of CFOs from multiple companies such as Unilever, Marks&Spencer is one the biggest initiative to help CFOs to understand how to integrate sustainability in their business processes. They have developed four guides to help accountants and CFOs doing so, covering topic such as natural and social capital accounting. This initiative is a major help to understand that being sustainable does not necessarily mean not being profitable and that even the financial and accounting community can integrate it.
Another initiative is to integrate sustainability in the core business model. Most of the companies are obliged to maximize shareholders benefits. On the contrary, Benefit Corporation (a movement of organizations) is more flexible about that, and allow serving a more holistic purpose. This is very important as it can show other companies that maximizing the shareholders benefits is not the only obligation, being as sustainable as possible could also be one. As long as the only objective of a company is to maximize shareholders benefits, it will be harder for senior managers to integrate sustainability in the strategy.
We can then summarize the best practices to integrate sustainability in the following points:
- Transparency and cross-functional communication
- Senior level governance and guidance for CFOs, using tools such as the CFO Leadership network… to ensure that sustainability is also integrated the financial decisions and reports
- Publish data and results in internal reports to show how much sustainability has helped or how much more work should be done
- Interconnection between the different aspect of your company such as finance, social, environmental…