Materiality—focusing on the impact your company makes—is important. This means focusing on only the targets or goals relevant to your company. For example, some companies initially reported on everything in the GRI but later narrowed their focus to only those metrics that are material to the company. Further, materiality assessments should consider the future, not just the present. Some companies’ material issues have evolved to include emerging issues that, while not central to operations, are salient due to their newly understood importance. “Relevance changes through time,” one participant said.
We need market transformation. Through enterprise integration, companies can operate better, faster, cheaper and with less energy, but that doesn’t get us to a sustainable world. What we need is to transform the entire business model into truly more forwardthinking models that drive market-level change.
We need more internal company support for sustainability action and change. Internal company buy-in is critical for success. Translating improvements into dollars is complicated, but if you can do it, you can get the attention of company leaders. One way to sell more sustainable practices is to leverage long-term data sets: Data from early sustainability success stories helps convince board members and elevates the conversation about sustainability. Further, knowing your audience is critical to successfully winning this buy-in: “The story you tell the CFO might not be the same story you tell the CMO,” one panelist said. This internal buy-in throughout the organization can also be gained by challenging employees at all levels of the organization to innovate. For example, one carbon-neutral company started imposing a “carbon tax” on each of its teams—so that each team is responsible for paying for its own carbon use, including electricity and air travel. It encourages innovation and creativity as teams find ways to reduce their impact, and it holds people accountable for what they actually do.
Young people want to make a difference, not just money. This means that companies that have made more headway on sustainability are more attractive to new talent. Millennials, in particular, want to work for companies with which they share values. Companies need to demonstrate—and communicate—their progress and commitment to sustainability to all stakeholders, including employees.
We should communicate with outsiders in clear ways. All the conference attendees are sustainability people, but do they typically include outsiders in discussions about these issues? We are entering a moment of change, and companies need to evolve their messaging to tackle global issues together—these issues are too big for any one company to solve. A company should paint a picture of what its business should look like in 100 years. And sustainable practices can be presented as a way to future-proof the business.
A diversity of voices and perspectives—including political diversity—is necessary to drive meaningful change. Otherwise, progress will be—at best—incremental. Erb Institute | Innovation Forum | 3