• Get sustainability on the agenda: Embedding a genuine sustainability governance structure into a firm is the first step to ensuring sustainability makes it onto the agenda.
  • Appointing sustainability professionals: Dedicated sustainability teams, leaders, Chief Sustainability Officers (CSOs) and committees who have sufficient knowledge and authority or opportunity to influence will serve to support both individuals and the wider firm in its journey to change.

A necessary precursor to getting sustainability onto the agenda and achieving transformational change will be brought about through high-level buy-in within your firm. This is particularly the case as the roles of C-suite and senior leaders entails formulating a corporate strategy or vision, driving internal policies and procedures, setting targets (and potentially rewards) and allocating budget and funding.

Whilst high-level buy-in is critical to ensure strategies are supported initially, for many firms the sustainability agenda may begin to (also) be driven through other areas or individuals within the business such as dedicated teams, sustainability champions, voluntary committees, Human Resources (HR) teams or specialist experts.

To be effective and in order to enact real change, those responsible for sustainability must be a genuinely integrated part of any governance structure—bringing sustainability into strategy discussions at the board or C-suite or senior management level. The governance structure created must not be siloed and nor can it be a case of ‘title for titles sake’.

It is the responsibility of these individuals to be visible, to ensure funding and to connect all areas of the business thorough the sustainability lens. They must ensure that employees across the whole organisation are engaged, that two-way dialogue takes precedence over top-down, one-way communication and that there is a collaborative effort at all levels. A lack of leadership supporting sustainability can create friction between departments, competing demands for limited resources and a fragmented approach to achieving the desired outcomes.

An integrated approach to governance

The World Business Council for Sustainable Development well articulates the importance and effectiveness of integrating an appropriate governance structure to achieve sustainability.

‘Governance enables and guides … by clarifying limits and establishing frameworks that promote transparency, inclusiveness, internalised externalities, and other characteristics of sustainability. These systems define targets, create a level playing field and eliminate barriers, enabling business to innovate and to develop and deploy solutions. Reward systems recognise sustainable behaviour and as a result business can deliver solutions that are both sustainable and competitive’1.

1World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD) 2013, Vision 2050: A new agenda for business, World Business Council for Sustainable Development, last accessed 11 July 2013

“The sustainability strategy should speak strongly to the values and culture of an organisation; it should be bold and courageous and inspire innovation.”

SKM Group Manager – Environment and Community, ­Wendy Smith

Indicator / measures Description Questions to consider
Vision Statement A vision must underpin all sustainability activities. It should not focus on sustainability within clients and on projects, but should focus on internal sustainability with employees being the focus. It must be genuine and long-term. The vision should be holistic including operational elements (i.e. internal) and client focussed elements.
  • Has a vision been established and communicated?
  • Is the vision simple, vivid, repeatable and invitational (encouraging two-way dialogue)?
  • Does our vision allow for short-term wins?
  • What does a holistic approach to sustainability look like?
  • Where do we need to organisationally direct our focus and effort to achieve the desired outcomes?
External recognition of sustainability vision Look at mechanisms for ensuring supply chain adherence to your sustainability vision (for example requiring ISO 14000 certification).Consider asking your clients to formally accept your company’s Sustainability Charter
  • Do our supply contracts require certification?
  • Do we require our clients to demonstrate sustainability outcomes?
  • Do we accept commissions that may result in damage to natural, and/or social capital, either now or in the future?
Sustainability policy Develop a relevant sustainability policy signed by the CEO and make it publicly available on your website. A sustainability policy should be a succinct statement of an organisation’s commitment to environmental, social and economic sustainability objectives, endorsed by the highest level of the organisation’s management.
  • Do we have sustainability objectives?
  • Do we have targets for each objective?
  • Do we have a policy position and objective in relation to key environmental, social and economic sustainability issues such as: energy consumption and climate change, waste minimisation and management, transport choices, materials use and procurement, enhancing local culture and heritage, equity and fair trade and employee wellbeing?
  • Do we have an Environmental, Health & Safety Policy?
  • Is this policy written down?
  • Where is it located?
  • How many employees know about this policy?
  • How did they learn of it?
  • Is it included in a training, orientation or recruitment program?
  • Do we review our policies to verify and track progress against our commitments?
Documents around expected behaviours or values The behaviour of individuals will collectively form the organisational culture. A guiding Code of Conduct or behaviour guidance document may assist in developing consistency across the firm.
  • Are there stated expectations about behaviours generally?
  • What values would we consider putting in place around sustainability?
  • How would they be agreed upon?
  • Who would need to approve this?

Indicator / measures Description Questions to consider
General governance structure Ensuring the sustainability of a firm requires sustainability to be embedded throughout the firm’s governance structure.  One size does not fit all and governance structures will vary for each firm.
  • What do we need the governance structure to achieve?
  • What will support top-down decisions?
  • How will we support successful outcomes?
  • How far will those decisions extend?
  • What capacity do we have to influence the sustainability agenda/imperative?
  • How will we review the existing structure?
  • Who will have responsibility for this review and the implementation of any necessary changes?
Senior-level governance Sustainability must be embedded at a senior level to ensure it remains a high priority. Each firm must consider what they want senior-level staff to achieve and how they will be best positioned to do that.
  • What senior role for sustainability will we need to fit the firm culture?
  • A Chief Sustainability Officer (CSO)? If so, consider, would a CSO have responsibility for internal sustainability or would they just be a public interface for the client-based services?
  • Do we need more than one mechanism to address sustainability both internally at an operational level and through other elements of the business such as clients, projects and supply chains?
Middle-management/ employee buy-in An individual with sustainability responsibilities at the highest organisational level is undoubtedly needed to ensure sustainability is on the C-suite and senior management agenda, however it is often the case that middle-management is needed to get employees onboard on a more day to day basis. Assessing the best means to do this is about culture.
  • Are we better-suited to a Committee of Champions?
  • If so, is this Committee sufficiently resourced to be credible?
  • Does the group have enough leaders to be able to drive a legitimate change process?

Indicator / measures Description Questions to consider
Internal accountability Look at increasing accountability through incorporating sustainability into KPI’s, job descriptions, performance agreements etc. Also consider how sustainability is reported against and measured in terms of individual accountability.
  • Do we have accountability/responsibility for sustainability issues at all levels?
  • Will KPIs be set?
  • Will these KPIs impact on day-to-day roles and responsibilities? If so, how do we manage this?
  • What metrics will KPIs be set for?
  • Are we prepared to make others accountable for delivery?
  • To what extent will they be held accountable i.e. will it affect salary/bonus?
  • To what level will KPIs be distributed?
  • Are sustainability issues embedded into risk evaluation and strategic decision-making?
  • What process do we undertake to ensure this is the case?
Managing non-compliance A moral dilemma may arise if an internal stakeholder practices poor-sustainability behaviours. Putting in place a formal process or policy to effectively manage this should fall under the remit of senior executives and leaders. Middle management and team leaders should be well-equipped to deal with non-compliance.
  • What policy do we have in place to manage internal non-compliance with our sustainability and corporate social responsibility policies and procedures?
  • Are the relevant staff equipped to deal with, and manage this effectively, ensuring transparency, confidentiality and diplomacy?
  • Do our policies allow management to deal with the non-compliance according to severity i.e. informal discussion to manage the issue, to formal warnings and escalating the issue to other leaders?

Indicator / measures Description Questions to consider
Incentives The provision of incentives (financial or otherwise) may be used to encourage the adoption of behaviours or practices that support a sustainability agenda.
  • Will incentives be offered? If so, will they be linked to current arrangements for bonuses, incentives or performance reviews?
  • What behaviours will warrant an incentive?
  • What will be the value of the incentive?
  • How will the incentive be paid for?
  • Who will manage this process?
Awards and recognition schemes An award or recognition scheme will bring about peer recognition for behaviour that leads to sustainable outcomes.
  • Will awards/recognition be offered?
  • What frequency will they be made?
  • What behaviours or outcomes will warrant an award?
  • Will there be a financial value to an award, if so, what would the value be?